A survivor of child sex abuse viewpoint on the video “Better Than I Know Myself” by Adam Lambert
WARNING, this essay contains abuse triggers for some survivors.
I know I won’t become my father. Getting away from him at nineteen, learning to live another way, allowed me to jump the tracks of the training and conditioning he tried to use to turn me into him. Yet the fears and horrors from my past often rise up to color my present surroundings, and at times I cannot control what the resulting stress does to my emotional state, or my sense of personal safety. This is compounded by what I refer to as my grab bag of phobias, rapid cycle bipolar, risk of panic attacks due to stress, and PTSD.
This is not in any way an attempt to “explain” the otherwise beautiful and genius work of art that is this music video by Adam Lambert. Others (many of whom I admire) are doing a far better analysis of it than I could. However, they reassured me that my views are also valid and could perhaps be helpful to other survivors of abuse. Adam is one of my stepping stones. One of the people I look up to, admire, or see as an example of what is possible. Having come to know him better as a fan, as well as any of us can, I can say I now adore him as well. I am proud of him for reaching inside himself to seek out the light and the dark places within him, and for having the courage to show us even a small portion of what he finds there. As a survivor trying to share what I can to help others, I understand that courage, and the kind of fear it must surmount. I didn’t always “know him”, though. Before I did, I was afraid of him, and equally afraid to express my fear.
When I first encountered Adam, it was the music video “For Your Entertainment”, from his first CD of the same name. While I have come to appreciate now the sexy freedom of sexuality he was trying to convey, at first it frightened me – HE frightened me. My loved ones assured me he was acting, it was a stage persona for a video, he’s a sweetheart of a man, etc. All I saw was a beautiful and powerful predator, stalking the people he wished to press his sexuality on; in other words, I saw only my father.
In the new video for the ballad “Better Than I Know Myself”, first single of his sophomore CD Trespassing, Adam revisits this fierce incarnation of himself more directly, without the trappings of blatant and glorious sexuality to ease the sharper edges. The video itself is split into the dichotomy of what fans have dubbed “Dark” Adam and “Light” Adam. Each part of this duality lives in his own “room” inside the heart, soul, mind, and body of the singer. Light Adam is warm and sweet, adorable, beautiful, and safe. He is kind, tolerant, and focused on fun, peace, and serenity. This is the way my loved ones have always insisted he is in real life, especially those who have met him. So if Adam himself perceives both halves to be within him, how am I to interpret Dark Adam? Again, I’ll leave the speculation and analysis of what Adam may be trying to convey to us to others. All I can say is how it affects me, as a survivor of abuse. I don’t blame Adam for scaring me, and I still adore, admire, and look up to him. Yet with everybody asking each other, “What did you think of the video?” I wanted to say not what I think, but how it made me feel. I believe this exploration at least was one of the intentions Adam had for the video.
To put it simply, Dark Adam scares me and makes me feel like I’m not safe if that person can get at me. If the “For Your Entertainment” video Adam was perceived as my father in his predatory lust incarnation, this Dark Adam became, for me, my father when he was about to beat or injure me. My father was a beautiful man; he was tall, dark haired, pale skinned, and blue-eyed like me. He was spooky smart, and could charm the birds out of the trees, or convince a more malleable soul of any lie he chose to spout. His voice alone could hypnotize. My father was also an alcoholic and drug addict, probably afflicted with co-morbid mental disorders, but he never was tested or treated. Whether or not he was also abused as a child, I might never know. What I do know is that he spent his life destroying mine and my mother’s.
He used to pace like Dark Adam, throw and break things, scream at nothing. He was a narcissist and sadist, and taught me that I was born for his use, and for sex. He was convinced over time that he was a god, and I was raised to believe it, even made to worship him, call him “God” or “my Lord”. Any slight deviation from difficult, complex, and changeable rules was punished. This punishment ranged from a punch or a whipping with a rope, a beating, or he would cut me with blades. Once, he took my hair, kept long to use as a handle to control me, and set it on fire. My mother put the fire out as my father laughed. Later I was punished for having put burns in the carpet. Rape was rarely punishment. That was just my duty.
When I see Dark Adam pace and break things, laugh or grimace like a mad man, threaten violence, or start fires, or crush something special that belongs to somebody else, I feel frightened and sick. I don’t want to see my Adam, the real Adam, the kind and fun person in interviews and on TV, behave like that. However, I have watched the video more than once, and I won’t avoid it, just as I don’t avoid the predatory sexual “FYE” video.
Adam is my stepping stone, and even when his creative artistry frightens me, I know that is not his intent; it is merely my past intruding on the present and trying to make me weak. I trust Adam, as much as my damaged psyche can endeavor to trust, the same way I trust my new and chosen family. If I am to trust, I have to remind myself that Adam is not my father, he is nothing like him; just as I myself am not my father, or anything like him. So how to turn the fear I can’t seem to help feeling while watching these two videos into a positive and helpful, even therapeutic experience?
I choose to see them as a lesson. I use these videos as a safe way to work on my growing understanding that the past can’t hurt me anymore, unless I allow it to. Dark Adam is a portrayal in a video by a singer who used to act in plays, he is not a real person. Whatever facet of Dark Adam the singer sees in himself, however he interprets it for himself, it will be different than how I have perceived it through the lens of my abuse. Either way, a character in a video cannot come through the computer screen and hurt me. The fire he sets, the things he throws, cannot injure me. The PAST… cannot injure me.
Dark Adam stirs up fears and dark feelings, just as Light Adam reminds me of my loving new family, stirring up good and safe feelings. Although, for a survivor of abuse, even Light Adam poses some fears; that my loved ones may not “really” love me, because the past whispers to me that I am dirty, broken, ugly, maimed, used, disgusting…. I fear sometimes that they will stop loving me if I make a mistake, or if my mental illness makes me do, feel, or think things that they don’t understand. I fear that my physical, mental, and emotional problems are “too much work”, and I will be abandoned, beaten, denied love.
This dichotomy of Adams becomes my dichotomy of fears, but the lessons are still there. Good and safe people love, they don’t delight to injure others, they don’t deny love to punish; and the bad people from the past? They can’t hurt us anymore. The ghosts that are born out of our abuse are not poltergeists, nor are they Mr. Hyde to the Dr. Jekyll of our loved ones who care for us now. They have no teeth. They have no fire. They are nothing but smoke. It is our choice to choke and smother, or to allow the smoke of past abuse to dissipate, and the air to become clean.
Thank you Adam Lambert, for helping me to face my dichotomy of fears, and for giving me this lesson to work on making them stop someday. You remain my stepping stone, and I am starting to heal myself, a little bit more every day.
For all survivors of any kind of rape or abuse; we can face, and beat, our fears. We can heal, we can live. Find a way, a path, and stepping stones along that path. Make the decision to walk that path, to climb with the aid of your stepping stones; even if you just take one step at first, a tiny step. You can heal. You can live. Someday, when you’re stronger and ready, you can speak out; tell your story, so that you can help other survivors. This helps us heal too. You are loved. You are not alone.
~ ~ ~
© W.R.R. 2/8/2012
February 8th, 2012 at 9:37 pm
You are a brave man with a huge loving heart and a bright, shining soul, my friend…it’s a privilege to know you.
February 8th, 2012 at 10:40 pm
I told you I thought about you when I watched this video. I wondered if it would get to you and you’d be freaked out by it. I’ve said that FYE was until now my favorite of Adam’s mv’s, and oddly enough, it’s for the same reasons that scare you. I read this beautiful and heart wrenching outpouring and I felt a little guilty about all my raving about it. But like I told you, it’s our experiences in life that shape our reactions to this. There’s no right or wrong interpretation, nor any right or wrong way of feeling in response. Your feelings are certainly legitimate, and only someone ignorant would ever berate you for it.
You are beautiful and brave, and I’m so proud of you for putting yourself out there for the benefit of others. You have such a loving family, and such warm-hearted friends. Keep them close, because they will help you on this long and often difficult road to bettering yourself. You’re worth every bit of it; don’t ever doubt that.
February 8th, 2012 at 11:17 pm
I wish I had had time to read this before you came on our show tonight, but then again it may be better to save this for a future discussion. There is so much truth in this: “I choose to see them as a lesson. I use these videos as a safe way to work on my growing understanding that the past can’t hurt me anymore, unless I allow it to.” Self-awareness leads to knowledge, which in turn leads to power over your deepest fears. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for opening yourself up. It’s not just other victims of trauma and abuse who you are helping. You are helping us all to become more understanding, compassionate people.