Monday, March 31, 2008

awesome, amazing conference

just an FYI:

This weekend(!), at Hampshire College (in Amherst, Massachusetts) marks the 22nd annual CLPP conference, From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom.

It's always an incredible conference, and this year will be no different, I'm sure. Loretta Ross will be there, and she's a rockstar. As will Ellen Story, MA state rep from the Amherst area, who's pretty much the best friend that repro justice advocates could ask for in the State House. (She's been to the conference every year, and even used to work for Tapestry Health, western MA's sexual health organization.)
So many other incredible speakers will be there, so many that I can't even begin to name them all -- you can go here to see the full list.

Best of all?

All you've got to do is get yourself to Amherst, and (with pre-registration), CLPP / Hampshire College will feed you and house you and provide childcare if you need it, as well as provide you with incredible workshops and breakout groups and plenaries.
Last year?
Well, I got to help organize it, which was one of the best experiences of my entire college career.
I learned how to do an abortion on a papaya, how to perform gynecological self-exams, and even got a free hand mirror and speculum. And got to meet a ton of awe-inspiring activists and have a lot of thought-provoking, challenging, wonderful conversations and discussions about everything pertaining to reproductive justice.

It's all so good.
So yes, I'll be there from Friday-Sunday. (I'm even taking a day off from the cafe - unheard of!)
I hope to see you there!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

what counts?

this is about:
truth. reality. authenticity. level of: influence, trauma.

how do you define violence as violence? what counts as sexual abuse, violence, rape, assault? if it didn't totally destroy you, if it didn't ruin your life and send you into some (visible) insane spiral of self-destruction, does it deserve a place in your story? should you include it when you tell your story?

(i think i have answers to these. feel free to share your answers. but these aren't questions that really need direct answers. more, they need acknowledging as questions that exist.)

my oldest friend (since pre-school) and i discussed this a few days ago. we didn't come to much of a conclusion. i still haven't come to much of a conclusion.

for some context:
M and i are both well acquainted with all of the definitions of rape and sexual violence. we've both done a good deal of activist work around violence against women. we know the talk, we know the realities of violence.
we were both abused as children. we've both been in unhealthy relationships - hers more blatantly violent than mine. we both grew up in less than functional families. so we both have plenty of trauma in our respective pasts.
but this one part, we both aren't sure about including when we tell our stories.
she and i were both, by definition, victims of an alcohol-related rape a few years ago.
we were both wasted, mostly at his insistence - especially M. the guy involved? he was totally sober. things happened that neither of us wanted to happen. things that would never have happened if we were sober. things that he was well aware would never have happened if we were sober. there was no doubt about the lack of consent; neither of us really consented to this.
neither of us know, though, whether or not to call it "rape." whether or not we want to call it that for ourselves, acknowledge it as such in our minds.
for one thing, if we do...that makes three for me, between the ages of 6 and 21. and at least two for her. that's a lot. that's a scary kind of truth to usher into either of our lives.
and the major sticking point here is: neither she or i were destroyed by this, by what happened with erik. (aside: i first wrote that as "by what we let erik do." and i caught the self-blame and rephrased. what does that default to self-blame say about what happened, about what it counts as?)
both M and i are far more scarred by the rapes we experienced prior to this, when we were little. the fact that erik made us go down on him when we clearly didn't want to? seems to pale in comparison. it didn't wound us as deeply because we didn't expect anything better than being used/abused.

does that make it less of a rape, then? should we be calling it rape when we weren't even all that traumatized by it? what does that mean for our stories, for our relationships?
other (compassionate, educated) people would probably look at this and call it rape.
but if we don't call it that...what implications does that have for the stories we tell?
does it affect our honesty? can i tell my story honestly and not include that as part of it? or, on the flip side, can i tell my story, include this as part of it, call it "rape," and still be considered "honest"?

M asked me, this week, if i included that incident when i told people my story.
usually, i don't. sometimes, i do. it's mostly an arbitrary inclusion/exclusion.
M does, kind of. but not as the main thing. and not always, but most of the time.

the questions come down to: who decides what counts as "legitimate" assault? where is that line that defines rape, and who gets to draw it?

stepping back from all of this, stepping out of the confusing tangle of facts and truths and questionable definitions, though, i go somewhere else, somewhere even bigger than this question of what counts/doesn't count.
that is: why does it matter? why is legitimacy and authenticity so important to us?
we all look for validation outside of ourselves, for people to tell us "yes, that's awful," and "yes, of course it counts." and that's so important. having people in our lives who believe us, who don't doubt our stories - it's vital for survival. but no matter how much they believe us, their validation won't validate anything...if we don't believe it ourselves. if we don't believe in ourselves.
we can't make our stories believable...if we don't believe them ourselves.

so i guess, when you break it down even further, it comes down to this question: why do we doubt ourselves? why do we doubt our own accounts, our own stories?

i could answer this with some obvious answers, answers that would sound wise and well-informed and maybe even beautifully self-aware...but they wouldn't be coming from my heart, because my heart isn't there yet. so i'll just leave the questions without answers, and add a few more:

when was this self-doubt ingrained into our psyches? how did it get to be so widespread, so endemic? where does it come from? what purpose does it serve? and, lastly: how do we heal that, how do we extend the same kind of validation and legitimacy and authenticity to ourselves that we (most of us) are so willing to extend to the people we love?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

trauma, large-scale (societal/national)

via feministing, a disturbing, sad story from South Africa:
"Traumatised South African children play 'rape me' games".

reproduced in full, emphases added:

(byline: Chris McGreal, Johannesburg)
* Thursday March 13 2008

South African schoolchildren are so affected by crime that they play games of "rape me, rape me" and mimic robberies in the playground, according to the country's human rights commission. In a report on school violence published yesterday, the commission said schools were the "single most common" site of crimes against children, such as robbery and assault, including rampant sexual violence, some of it by teachers.

The commission said it had identified a number of games pupils played in response to the violence, including one in which they pretended to rape each other. "This game demonstrates the extent and level ... brutalisation of the youth has reached, and how endemic sexual violence has become in South Africa," it said.

The report said that a fifth of all sexual assaults on young people occurred at school. A survey of 1,227 female students who were victims of sexual assault found that nearly 9% of them had been attacked by teachers.


A separate study by the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme found that a quarter of secondary school students said that forced sexual intercourse did not necessarily constitute rape.

The human rights commission report said that more than 40% of the young people it interviewed had been victims of some form of crime. It recommended that the education department consider introducing metal detectors and fences at schools, after the Red Cross children's hospital in Cape Town said it commonly treated school pupils who had been assaulted with fists, knives, machetes or guns, or who had been raped.

when i first started this blog entry about this article, i had it up in another tab on firefox. the full title didn't show up in the tab - i only saw "traumatised south afr." looking at the title as it appeared on the tab, i didn't connect it to the full title of the article. in my mind, that excerpted title turned into "traumatised south africa," as in: a traumatized nation.

and, really, that would also have been an accurate title. because south africa is a traumatized nation. and the cycle of trauma continues there: the atrocious societal and individual traumas that it's endured in recent years aren't being healed. instead, they're being passed down, generation to generation. passed down from the adults of the country to their children.
the fact that children are playing "rape games" on the playground is disturbing and sad, yes, but not all that surprising. kids act out and play at what they know. i wish it surprised me that they know rape and sexual violence. but it doesn't. it doesn't surprise me about south africa, and it wouldn't surprise me about the u.s.
if you think of it from a child's perspective, it makes perfect sense: if they're playing these games, if they're doing it "willingly" (however "willing" something that comes from such a wounded place can be), they have control over it. if they can control this violence that they see all around them, this violence that they endure, then maybe it's ok, maybe they'll be ok. they don't even have to play games that pretend the outcome changes, they don't have to pretend that they get away in the end...just by playing it, by choosing to play these games, they can have the illusion of control. and that's vital for these abused kids to have.

(we, as adults, play these games all the time, too. they're not as obvious as running around the playground, running from a pretend-rapist, but we have the same underlying intention and seek the same kind of control.)

i get the impression from this article (in a newspaper from the country that colonized South Africa for so many years), that there is an assumption about traumatized nations. being that: South Africa, a new democracy, is so fucked up that their kids are playing rape games. that South Africa, this backward country trying to forge their way "into civilization," is so different from us developed western countries. that South Africa has created this rape culture because it's had such a turbulent history.
thing is:
we're pretty traumatized over here, too. we've got a rape culture every bit as damaging as South Africa's; ours is just more concealed. our kids rarely breathe the word "rape," even though it happens to them at what's probably a comparable rate to South Africa's. (and let's not forget that it was Britain, the country now reporting on this recent report, that colonized and, in a lot of ways, raped South Africa for years and years, contributing a good deal to their national trauma.)

[for further reading, see also my good friend's blog post on this article, here.]

moving on to a second, related point:
the ellipsis in the article as posted above was my decision to leave out a small section of the article, since it's a bit of a subject change. however, it's a subject i still want to pursue here, so here's the paragraph i left out above:

The commission also found that some boys committed what they called "corrective rape" on lesbians, justifying the assault by claiming that it would make the victims heterosexual. "There is a growing phenomenon of corrective rape. This refers to an instance where a male learner [student] rapes a lesbian female learner in the belief that after such a sexual attack the learner will no longer be lesbian," the report said.

...i wasn't aware that there was actually a term for lesbian-target rapes. "corrective rape." it's chilling. (literally: a shiver just shook my body.)

again, though, this doesn't surprise me. it chills me, but the chill doesn't come from being astounded that this happens. i'm well aware that this happens. i want to say that i may be more aware than a lot of queer women, but i don't think i can -- being raped for being queer isn't exactly an unheard of phenomenon.

i wish i had more to say about this. something wise, revelatory, beautiful, or touching. i wish i could say more about the fact that the level of homophobia in South Africa, a country which actually has protections against discrimination written into its constitution, is so high that lesbians - lesbian schoolchildren, even - have boys trying to "correct" them through sexual violence.
but all i've got is:

my heart is weighed down with rocks, stones, pebbles, sand.
this news story? it's more than a news story.
it's her story.
and her story.
and millions of women's stories.
all different, all the same.
millions of women with heavy hearts,
weighed down with rocks, stones, pebbles, sand.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

other people's writing.

(because today, writing about my own individual healing is just a little bit too raw.)

this piece is from Word Warriors, an anthology of female spoken word artists, edited by Alix Olson.

Miscarriage, by Thea Hillman

I have been a mother many times, but I have never been pregnant.

There was that one child, older than me. I picked her up in a bar. Her apartment was small. She leaned back against her headboard, smug and sexy. Her mouth went slack, eyes soft, when she pulled down the straps of my bra. She made a noise I didn't understand yet.

I am the mother she never had. There have been a few of us in her life, makeshift mothers who fuck away the pain, or cry trying.

It was only moments, but it was no longer just sexy. She buried her head in my chest, arms around me. Surprised, I held her close. Something happened to this girl's mother, my head told me. This girl hasn't had a mother in a long time, my heart told me.

I am only thirty but I have been a mother to many girls. Oh my sweet girls. I haven't saved a one of them yet.

I hold her. Tell her she's beautiful. Hold her and rock her when she's hysterical, heaving sobs harder than any I've ever cried and I wonder, how will I ever hold all those tears, how can I teach her to let them go, that they are part of an ocean, lapping a welcome shore? My mother's heart breaks for a baby that isn't mine and for a child I know I'll have to give up.

I hold many of them longer than nine months. I have never carried any of them to term. It's funny that miscarriage sounds so much like marriage, but without the promise, the ring, or a future.

Poor baby. She is older tahn me, but I see the beatings in her young eyes housed in an ancient face. It's the pictures that kill me, a knife twisting in my mothergut. She shows me pictures. She hands me her hurt like a beloved headless doll, oblivious to what it reveals, each year another scar. The baby eyes in the pictures give way to a hard teenage grin and a glint that makes me wince. Each year a pristine new dress hung off her, and the pictures look progressively wronger than the year before, the boy peeking out from the girl that's getting beaten to death inside there, by her mother, by her.

I fall for the girl who takes refuge in her brother, in boyhood, the girl who sees her survival in a square ass and flat chest. Today my girls wear army fatigues, hooded sweatshirts, and briefs. Their shoulders curve to hide their chests. They get mistaken for boys on the street and in public bathrooms, but I see the little girls, invisible to the others, but unmistakable to me. Bigger than me, they get sirred all the time, but they'll always be my little girls.

I love their little boy bodies. I love their breasts. I put food on the table, I hold down a job, I keep the house clean. Each time I tell myself, this one, she'll be the one, I'm going to save this one. And she lets me in. She lets me touch her. She lets me in and I tell her I love her and I tell her how to keep a job, to feed herself, to succeed in the world. I tell her I believe in you, you have something to offer the world, you have a chance. But motherless girls don't want to be nurtured, they want to be mothered. And they'll do anything to not grow up, and not let go. So with every word of encouragement, I cement her failure. With every hope, every word of support, I build the tower of expectation she's going to fall from. And then with every hurt and disappointment, I seal a future without me in it. For she is motherless, and I will necessarily lose her, she will necessarily grow up without me. I lose another baby. And maybe I will try again, when the bleeding resumes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

see the ugliness.

do you remember when i mentioned, in my review of Louise Wisechild's The Obsidian Mirror, that what i loved about her book was that she didn't sugarcoat the ugly? she didn't gloss over the ugly, ugly, ugly, painful parts of healing.

healing isn't all about beautiful truths and incredible insights and wonderful, life-changing epiphanies.
healing's also about facing the ugly. the awful. the unfathomable. the unforgivable.

i'm not going to share my ugly.
at least, not here.
with my journal, i think.
and maybe with my therapist.

but here's part of the non-glossed-over healing, a small bit of what i'm willing to share with the world, to more accurately track this healing revolution of my own:
this fucking hurts. more than i could've ever imagined.
and it hurts because, says my therapist, all of this shit is like poison. keeping it inside is awful, and it makes you sick, and it sometimes makes you want to die, but letting it out...isn't always that much more enticing. to let it out, you've got to feel all of it on its way out. you've got to feel all of that pain that's been muffled, somehow, inside of you, and you've got to feel it fully.
she says it gets better.
that it won't always hurt like this.
i know she's right.
i just can't believe it yet.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

a couple of announcements


there's a new (temporary) logo/link on the sidebar for Blog Against Sexual Violence Day. (which falls, by the way, on A Day To End Sexual Violence). the date for both of these campaigns is April 3rd...the third of the month of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Blog Against Sexual Violence Day is, well, exactly what you'd think it is: a day for bloggers to advocate against sexual violence. i kinda do that every day, but the nice thing about these days is that the organizer (marcella chester, this year) will create a comprehensive list of everyone who's participating.
it's a great campaign, and one i hope lots of people will be participating in.

so, on April 3rd, I'll be blogging against sexual violence.
will you?


and second:

this YouTube video, created by David Ilan of Points With Purpose, a pointillism project, creating a drawing made up of dots that represent individual survivors.
the project itself is powerful, and sad, and beautiful.
but this video....
it's really powerful.
and sad.
and so good.
go watch it:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

on healing and heart-pain. (words of wisdom)

a few hours ago, i sent my very good friend, e, this question:
people say that nobody ever died from working on this kind of healing work.
but, given how much my heart hurts right now, i'm having a hard time believing that. believing that it won't just up and give out on me. i never thought i'd get to the point of being afraid of dying from these wounds. and yet, here i am. with that as my new biggest fear.
my question, then, is this.
have you ever heard of anyone dying (as in, just dying, not directly by their own hand) because of this?

and she sent me this answer, which i re-post here, because this is wisdom that just begs to be shared:
i have not, thankfully, heard of anyone dying from this kind of work. i have, however, had the feeling -- this hurts too much. this hurts. this is so huge. i once said to beth, "i feel like i am dying." and she said, "perhaps you are just learning how to live... how to really truly love and hold your own self through your life." and i think she is right on.

it's like when you are out in the cold (all those difficult memories) and it's freezing, freezing, and your hands go numb. and they just stay numb, and you keep skating or skiing or whatever you are doing. and you do fine... it's good enough (is it?). and then you walk into a warm space -- a house (a therapist's office) for instance -- and your hands start to warm up. and the feeling starts to come back. and the first sensation is pain. unbelievable pain. and you wonder if it would've just been better to keep those hands numb because, well, OUCH! but then the warmth returns... slowly, slowly... there is tingling and it starts to feel better but a little bit weird and unfamiliar... and then they keep warming. and the feeling returns. and then you can use those hands to hold things and make things... beautiful delicate things...

writing as healing


to start off:
new memories are fuckin' hard.

(at one point, i would've looked at this as an obstacle to be avoided. who knew that i'd ever get to the point where i look at this as an obstacle to be surmounted, healed, learned from?)

and to expand, in a completely depersonalizing (or, well, not "depersonalizing" so much as "masking the too-revealing personal truths") way:
writing as healing.

i've had a long, long, long post in the works about this topic for over a month now.
it's still not nearly finished - in fact, it might be one of those that never gets "finished" - but here's a little bit of it. a little taste.

this one's about writing and healing, about healing through writing and writing as a conduit of healing.
(i love that word, “conduit.” i’ve recently rediscovered it. “a means of conveying something from one location to another.” moving from (wounded) location to (healing/healed) location. appropriate, no?)

so here we go, some thoughts on writing, healing, the process, telling the truth, and so on.

the woman whose (adorable!) daughter I babysit, Nerissa Nields, has this quote on her website:
I believe that our stories are what make us sick AND our stories are what heal us.

i'm also currently reading this absolutely incredible book by Louise DeSalvo: Writing as a Way Of Healing.
in this book, she quotes Wayne Muller:
our own wounds can be vehicles for exploring our essential nature, revealing the deepest textures of our heart and soul, if only we will sit with them, open ourselves to the pain,...without holding back, without blame.

in this same book, DeSalvo talks about how not telling our stories makes us sick, both emotionally and physically. by extension, then, telling our stories heals us, not only emotionally, but physically as well.
over time...the work of inhibiting traumatic narratives and feelings acts as an ongoing stressor and gradually undermines the body's defenses. like other significant stressors, inhibiting our stories and emotions can adversely affect immune function..

this isn't really a new concept for me; a good friend - we'll call her T - and i have been talking for a while about how this kind of suppression / repression / woundedness is probably behind her severe anemia, my roommate's borderline narcolepsy, my own poor immune system, my mother's fifteen (and counting) physical disorders, even T's mother's death.

our stories make us sick, yes. holding them in, inhibiting them, repressing them sets off an extremely unhealthy cycle: we get sick because we don't open up to our stories, we tell ourselves we can't open up to our stories because we're not well enough to deal with the ramifications we imagine would come with this kind of openness.
and we can't get well by constantly, actively repressing our stories, the traumatic events of our past. we get sicker.

that paper i tried to write at the end of my senior year at smith centered around "breaking the silence." i came to kind of hate that aphorism. it seemed overused and, after reading writer after writer using it to describe how they Healed From Abuse™, i was sick of it. i'd been talking about the abuse for years, since i was 15. i'd broken the silence, and i wasn't healed. my "healing" path, my silence-breaking, wasn't achieving that kind of healing catharsis that was supposed to come from telling my story, from "breaking the silence."
yet, despite my cynicism, my argument in the paper was still based on the revolutionary aspect of breaking the silence, particularly, the community- (and self-) imposed silences around being both queer and a victim/survivor of sexual violence. i knew i didn’t fit into the model of The Survivor – at least, the one who Healed by breaking her silence – but i still saw the potential of that model. how breaking the silence could be revolutionary, could be a (the?) path to healing…even if i hadn’t quite found that path yet, or figured out how it worked. i’ve always seen the value of breaking the silence, always repeated that aphorism, even as it frustrated and eluded me.
frustrating and elusive because i was talking. i was writing. i was, at times, talking and writing at length about the abuse. breaking that silence. but something was missing. it wasn’t helping. i wasn’t healing.

what i didn’t realize then, what i didn’t realize until recently, is that there’s a particular kind of breaking that silence that is healing; just talking in facts, sans emotion, the way i had been for years, isn’t the kind of healing silence-breaking that i’d been seeking.

not feeling feels safe. being numb feels safe. but it’s not healing.

DeSalvo cites a study that forms the basis of her book, her program for writing as healing. the study was done by James Pennebaker and Sandra Beall, and they found that writing a full narrative -- with both facts and emotions -- of a trauma was healing in a way that writing only half (only facts, or only emotions) was not.
We must write in a way that links detailed descriptions of what happened with feelings – then and now – about what happened. Both thinking and feeling are involved. Linking them is critical. Feelings about the traumatic event in the past and the present are expressed and, perhaps, compared so that the writer unravels how the past impinges on the present but how, too, it’s different.

so that’s what was missing.

when amy, my last therapist, first asked me what i felt during the abuse, i was lost. i didn’t have anything to say.
“i’ve never really thought about that. nobody’s ever asked me before.”
she was floored that, in my years and years of therapy, nobody had asked me about what it felt like to that little girl who was being abused. it didn’t seem all that strange to me; people wanted to know what happened, they wanted to know what my parents did, what john did, what i did. why would they care about what any of us felt? the feelings seemed irrelevant….because nobody had ever let me believe that they were relevant or told me that the “safety” i felt by avoiding them was actually a totally false sense of security. i’d become really good at telling the facts of what happened, with little or no feeling. feeling anything about it was dangerous, opened up things that i didn’t think i could bear opening up. so i didn’t.
and, until about three months ago, i kept up that stoic fa├žade. and then i met T, a woman who, for the first time, offered the kind of safety that i’d always sought, but never found. when i told her my story, it was different. the story itself was the same, the facts didn’t change, and i still consciously left out those parts that felt (still feel) too shameful to share, but what i opened up in the telling of the story was profoundly different. when she asked me to tell her my story, and i obliged, i felt it. for the first time, when i told the facts that, over the years, have become a little mundane, i felt them in my heart and in my gut. i told a full narrative – a short version, but full nonetheless – of the story. i opened up, with her, a package with both facts and feelings.

“ah.” i thought, “that’s what it’s supposed to be like to break the silence. this is the kind of healing that people have been talking about.”

it’s all part of living fully, of living with your heart and your head. it’s bigger than a healing way of writing, it’s bigger than me telling my story in a full way, it’s bigger than my friendship with this woman who first showed me what heart-living was about.

writing in a way that heals is just a part of living in a way that heals. but i’m a writer, always have been. so, for me, writing in a way that heals is a big part of living in a way that heals. writing in a way that links my heart-understanding of what happened with my head-understanding of what happened…that’s what it means to “break the silence.” that’s what it means to live that old, possibly overused, easily misunderstood aphorism.

so, in that vein, let me tell you a story.

...and this is where the post i've been working on veers off, unfinished, into convoluted storytelling, unorganized narrative, and totally non-healing writing. so instead, i'm going to end it in a different way. read on.

i could tell lots of stories. i've considered, thoroughly, my options for which story/stories to write in this way that's supposed to heal, which stories i could share on this blog.
there are plenty of easy ones. plenty. but they're "easy" because they're things i've already done a good deal of healing around/over/in. the ones i need to tell are the ones that...are hard.
like this new memory.
the one that i tried to tell my therapist about today...and couldn't get through all of it.

it's the things that are the hardest that i most want to do. i've never liked settling for the easier tasks. i thrive on challenges, on things that are supposed to be impossible or implausible.

so i can't tell you these "easy" stories.
because the stories i want to tell aren't easy.
and i can't tell you the hard stories, either. (because i can't tell myself these stories yet, either.)
but there will be stories. they'll come.
i promise (myself. and you).

Sunday, March 09, 2008

generational legacy of wounded women

when i decided to write today*, i intended to write about this topic, one of my "to-come" posts:
3) the ways in which a lot of women's reluctance to reject and deferment to the desires of (especially hetero) men is not only a sign of her own individual woundedness, but also indicative of our shared woundedness. i also want to discuss how "the patriarchy" (and everything that goes along with it) contributes to our own individual woundedness, how the oppression we feel is rarely capital-p Political, and how healing from it doesn't need to be Political. (healing, though, is inherently political, inherently an act of social change.

i thought about it, thought about Gerry, the (much older hetero male) customer at the cafe who seems to think that i want him to be more than just another regular customer i'm friendly with. i thought about my huge, huge difficulty with saying no to him, with refusing his gifts (...he gave me pearls. and a half dozen roses on valentine's day. i know, i know.) i thought a little about what that meant, given my own personal history and my socialization as a "nice girl."
i was about to write a long, well thought out post about the implications of my woundedness on my present life, how my past wounds carry on and continue wounding me exemplified by this situation with gerry.

and mother left me a message on my voicemail.
and, unsurprisingly, the direction of this post shifted dramatically.

this seems like a trivial anecdote, but it epitomizes the codependent, dysfunctional woundedness of my relationship with my mother (or, more accurately, of her relationship with/to me).

i recently changed my voicemail message. it's now much calmer, more peaceful, more mellow. a couple friends - friends who are part of this healing community of mine - have commented approvingly on it. they like the calmness, adultness, maturity of the new greeting.
my mom called today and left a message on my voicemail.
it started with a halting, seemingly distracted, uncomfortable: "you changed your voicemail. it' throws me off every time i hear it."

of course it does.
because when i recorded it, i felt at peace. i wasn't in excruciating, life-impeding pain. the person on the voicemail isn't the daughter that you've grown used to, that you've cultivated. the person on my voicemail isn't a slave to the pain that you have created / rely on.

when i heard her remark, i laughed out loud. shook my head.

at some point, i know, the grief will set in. i'll mourn for the woman my mother never was, for the mother i never had, for the peace she's never felt, for the healing she will probably never feel.

but for now, it's funny. sad-funny, definitely. that kind of funny where you laugh, but you think that maybe you should also be crying. but still, funny.

the point of this anecdote? it's a generational thing, this pain. the generational legacy of abuse, of trauma, of woundedness. my woundedness, even if it weren't directly caused by my mother's wounded actions (and a big ol' chunk of it was), would still have a lot to do with the legacy of my mother's woundedness. because when a woman as wounded as my mother tries to parent, she inevitably passes on that woundedness to her child.
so, yes, in a way, my wounds are hereditary. my depression is hereditary, my PTSD is hereditary, my addictions - to unhealthy relationships, to self-injury - are hereditary. but it's not the hereditary that's passed along in genes (or maybe it is). it's a different hereditary trait.

this all means that generations of women are still wounded, grow up wounded, because they were raised by wounded women. these girls, raised by wounded women, will also raise wounded women...unless they address their wounds. acknowledge them. try to heal them.

this woundedness, this generational's sad. it's sad to see women, just about everywhere, in so much pain. my heart goes out to the women i see with unhealed, unacknowledged wounds. but it also makes me angry. because this legacy of woundedness is another one of those things that supports the continued prominence of patriarchal structures. it's this woundedness that, on an individual level, enables patriarchal dominance over women who are too wounded to embrace their power, who can't see that they deserve something better than what they have.


*"today," at first, referred to monday, march 3rd. but i didn't get around to finishing the post until today, sunday, march 9th. noted just in case the chronology of these events matters...even though i'm pretty sure it doesn't.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

the best book i'd somehow never heard of

Yesterday, I finished this book: The Obsidian Mirror, by Louise Wisechild.
It took me close to two weeks to finish it.
Not because it's particularly long - it's typical memoir length, a little under 300 pages.
Not because it's intellectually dense or particularly difficult - it's well-written, but in a perfectly accessible way.
Not even because I wasn't dedicated to reading it -- there were few days I didn't have the book with me, in my bag, few days that I didn't pick it up and have a hard time putting it down.

No, it took me so long to finish this book because it was just that intense. Because there were entire chapters I didn't want to forget, so I finished, then went back 20 pages to re-read it. Even the preface (by Laura Davis) and new introduction (by the author) were read twice.
This is a book I took out from the Smith library. I don't really want to return it. I'm now torn as to where to spend the remainder of my book budget for March; I had planned on buying Writing As A Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo (about which I've got another post in the works for), but I also need this book as an addition to my library.

Why am I so enamoured with this book?
Part of it, I don't deny, is because I see myself in it, in what Wisechild is writing. I see my healing journey reflected in this memoir of her healing journey. It's my own journey, just as hers was her own, but it's a journey that reminds me that even in these hardest parts, I'm not the only one who's ever been there. Reminds me that not only have other people been there, they've gotten through it. That's huge.
But the bigger part of why I'm kind of astonished by how much I love this book is this:
It tells the story that nobody else tells. It's brutally honest about what "healing from sexual abuse" means.
I've been bitter about the myth of the Survivor, about the rhetoric around surviving / healing for a long time. Most books, stories, movies, and whatever else I've ever read or seen have emphasized the telling as The Healing Moment. Have given the impression, intentionally or not, that telling, breaking that silence, is the thing you need to do to "heal." Made it seem like healing comes automatically afterwards -- as in, speak out about the abuse, call it what it is (rape, abuse, incest, etc), tell your therapist, confront your abuser(s), and suddenly, you're healed! You're officially a Survivor!
Except...that's not how it works.
Maybe for some people, it really is that simple. But not, I don't think, for most. And certainly not for me.
Which isn't to say that the initial telling isn't important - it is, it's vitally important, and essential to starting that healing process. But that's what it is: a start. Of a process. Not the be-all and end-all of healing.

So what I love most about Wisechild's book is that it's honest about the up and down (and down and down and up and down) nature of the healing process. It's honest about it being a process. It's up-front and frank about the things she's healing from, without inaccurate metaphors and allusions to abuse. It's real, and it's true. It's not beautiful. It ends beautifully, in a very healed & still healing place, but she doesn't gloss over the ugly, ugly, painful parts of healing. In this book is so much truth, so much truth that's so often overlooked or (intentionally? subconsciously?) left out of the larger rhetoric of surviving, the larger myth of the Survivor.

And, to be totally honest, another reason I've developed such an attachment to this book is because it triggered a lot of things for me. Her story hit places in me that I needed to uncover. Places I'd been somewhat intentionally avoiding, things I'd been resisting. It hurt, to read it. It was painful. But it wasn't an unpleasant pain. It was a pain that opened, that triggered the pain of opening. It reminded me a lot of myself, I saw myself reflected often in her story...and then I also - briefly and distantly and uncertainly - saw myself in the last couple chapters, when her healing journey becomes calmer, when she's a more healed woman. A more whole woman. It hit home.
A moment of irony, fate, coincidence, something:
I'd been using a flyer as a bookmark. For the Block Island Poetry Project. I was interested in the weekend, even though I knew I could never afford it. I'd taken the brochure from the cafe's bulletin board, though, just so that I could pine away for my lost opportunities of writing poetry in a place like Block Island. I'd been to Block Island before, and had fond memories of it and its beauty. Reading this book triggered a new memory for me, something that hasn't happened in years, something which was painful beyond what I can describe here. The new memory?
From our trip to Block Island in 1998.
Ironic, don't you think?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

healing comes in memories, in monologues, in rants, and in prayers.

I'm currently reading A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, And A Prayer, an anthology edited by Eve Ensler. It contains writings about (and to stop) violence against women and girls, from 49 amazing writers.

It's incredible.

And so intense.

I can't read it straight through; I don't think any person with a connection to hir own heart would be able to read heartbreaking (but also heartening) story after heartbreaking/heartening story all the way through.

So I've been flipping around.

One that really resonates with me is called "Rescue," by Mark Matousek. Which explains how his childhood, growing up with a single mother and three sisters, affected his life -- that is, how growing up in a family of raped women made him into a "rescue artist." the familial, generational legacy of violence against women.

But also, Jane Fonda's afterword, which talks about healing, and also talks about that familial/generational legacy of sexual abuse.
Specifically, this sentence, regarding "healing activism":
"It's important to create an intentional community of love, friends who are also committed to living as fully and wholly as possible."
an intentional community of love.
i love that idea.
part of creating a community. part of integrating healing into activism. part of putting love, and heart, and wholeness (back?) into social justice movements.
I'll expand on this more in some (or lots) of posts to come, but for now, I'll just leave it at this:

Yes, I am indeed creating (and finding) my own intentional community of love.
And I do, sincerely, hope that you can find your way into one of your own.