Tag Archives: survivors

Guilt, Shame, Prevention, and the Burden of Educating Others

In a very helpful newsletter, Cecil Murphey of Shattering the Silence stated that the following statements irritate him:

“You don’t need to feel guilty.”
“You have no reason to feel ashamed.”

I agree. I get both statements said to me often and they irritate me, too. These people mean well, mostly; at least the ones who aren’t saying it in a “man up, get over it” way.

I think what they are trying to say is, “It wasn’t your fault.” But saying it the way they do comes across to me like a glib attempt to “tell me how to feel” and it doesn’t help at all. It certainly doesn’t make the guilt and shame magically go away. I suppose it’s ignorance of how to help on their part, so I try to educate.

Cecil Murphey suggested (linked above) that saying, “I’m sorry you’re hurting” is better, and I agree. He explained that as children, we didn’t know we were not to blame. So we naturally blamed ourselves as children do, and guilt and shame gained a foothold.

Most of us were told we were to blame by our abusers, often people we trusted, and maybe even loved. Then guilt and shame took root – during the delicate formative years. We don’t choose to feel guilt and shame, and we can’t “decide” to stop feeling that. Does it make sense to say to a child with a broken arm, “You don’t need to have a broken arm”? It won’t be fixed because you said that. They need a cast and they have to go through the mending and healing and not try to climb trees until the healing is done.

Sometimes I realize that survivors need to educate people on how to help, and I try to; but most times I’m too busy trying to deal and heal to worry about it. I often wonder, “Why does the burden to educate and inform the public so often fall on the shoulders of the survivors who, quite frankly, have enough on their plate?”

It seems survivors are also the majority of people teaching others how to keep their children safe from predators. At times, the willingness of parents to put fingers in their ears and say, “It can’t happen to my kid” makes me very upset. Self-care is vital in this jungle.

Then the language of the education can also be problematic. Most prevention advocacy talks of “parents, watch out for these signs of predatory abusers” but rarely do they mention that parents can often be the predatory abusers of their own children. For a survivor of incest abuse, it is very hard to read that stuff.

The important part, to me, is trying to learn better how to help and prevent, and to move forward in eliminating child abuse, rape, and all other forms of crimes against children.

Most survivors want to help with this, it often helps us to help others; but we do have a lot on our plates just to keep breathing and heal. It would be wonderful to see more people, especially those who are not survivors themselves, helping to end, and prevent, child abuse.

I know it’s frightening and unpleasant to think about an abuser harming your child or kids you know. It’s far more horrible to become an abused child. Which is worse? (Trust me, being abused is worse.) Learning about it to prevent it is far better than doing nothing out of squeamishness only to find out your child was abused. Damage from abuse (especially of children) can last a lifetime and affect every aspect of the child’s life. “It can’t/doesn’t happen in my town” doesn’t and can’t help the children at risk in your town.

Isn’t prevention worth more than scrambling after a non-existent cure? Isn’t prevention and the safety of children worth some discomfort? I’d sincerely like to know; but too many people have their fingers in their ears and can’t hear the question – or the cries of abused children.

~ ~ ~

© W.R.R. 12/11/2013
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Seek help. Speak out. Find your path to healing.

www.AsAshesScatter.com
wrr@asashesscatter.com
@AsAshesScatter

Please read the Comment Policy before submitting a comment to the moderators. For more about me, you are welcome to read my story and visit the About page.

Thank you for reading.


“I wasn’t brave”, and the problem of assumed familiarity from strangers….

I want to focus on two things here; being called “brave” by random strangers who don’t know me, and having those strangers act like they’re entitled to behave as if we are best friends on the basis of a few tweets, or in a comment because they read one essay. Do you want to know how to help me feel more comfortable talking to you? In a way that could help you with talking to some other survivors of abuse you may meet? Then please, read on; and thank you for taking the time to do so. As for comments on this blog, please read the Comment Policy.

To those who have already put in the legwork to help me feel comfortable and to become my friends, huge thanks to you. You help me learn how to grow into a “real person” every day, and I couldn’t make it without you. To my fellow survivors, take from this what resonates with you, feel free to ignore the rest.

******************

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, I rarely want to be told I am brave/strong/etc. I realize people are trying to be supportive, encouraging, or complimentary, but it usually feels off to me and falls flat, especially from a stranger or somebody who only knows a few things I’ve written about myself. I typically gloss over and ignore the comment, hoping it will go away. This article by Justin Cascio has helped me grasp a better way of realizing why it bothers me, in particular #5, the “brave” section:

10 things people have said to me that you should never say to a trans person

From a stranger, it does objectify, and seems to be an assumed intimacy that repels me. I am not me to them, I am a cardboard poster boy for “all survivors”, or simply an opportunity for them to feel better about themselves. Also, I don’t see being a survivor as “brave”. The phrase “it takes courage to survive that” irritates me. Actually, all it takes is “not dying yet”, each day. I never felt “brave”. In the end, it feels condescending. (Thanks to Justin for this clarity. I really appreciate his blog.)

As a semi-random point, I’ll add this: I don’t “speak for all survivors”, nor do any of them specifically speak for me. We do often find kernels of truth or common feeling in each other’s words, but it’s a “take what resonates with you and leave the rest” sort of process.

So what to say instead of “you’re so brave/strong because you survived”? Well, for me, I’d rather have my efforts to keep plugging along acknowledged over assumed past “bravery”. Why? Because surviving isn’t a done deal, it’s an ongoing process; and for many of us, it is a lifelong struggle.

Also, I was serious about the “I wasn’t brave as a kid” part. It’s a matter of perspective, in the end. To me, brave would have been trying to run away or refusing to hurt others because they ordered me to. Both of those things would have resulted in my death. So in my mind, what let me survive was closer akin to cowardice, and being told “you were brave” just makes me feel bad, as the truth of my past rises up on cue to negate the “compliment”. Therefore, if the goal is to make me feel better, I’d rather be told, “I’m glad you are still here and it’s great that you do what you can to help others”. Tell me I’m a good daddy, or that you like my poetry, perhaps, if you do. “Brave” is only a lie that haunts me, in tandem with the other ghosts born out of guilt and shame.

Thank you for trying to understand, and for trying to learn that survivors are all different. Maybe somebody else feels better to be told they were “brave enough to survive that”. Maybe they don’t. As I said, none of us are poster representatives for all of us.

The best advice I can give is, if you want to really discuss things with me about abuse and survivorship, make an effort to get to know me. Do some reading here on my blog (without making assumptions) and try not to assume familiarity or display an expectation of intimacy in talking to me before I’ve decided if I feel comfortable with that. It’s the same common courtesy you probably display at any other event where you meet new people. The assumption of intimacy or friendship and the entitlement of expecting me to be buddies just because you believe you’re a decent and safe person, can quickly feel like red flags to me. I often have people exchange three tweets with me and then they seem to assume they are on a par with my support system of people, family and friends, and begin acting like they have the same intimacy privileges that they do. Frankly, that behavior makes me want to avoid those people. So if your goal is to make me feel better, please don’t do that.

If you simply want to ask my views on abuse or survivorship, please still make an effort to allow me to feel comfortable talking to you first. A good start is to do your own research prior, on your own. Speaking to an informed person who asks good questions and wants to discuss issues is a lot more comfortable for me than feeling like a poster boy you randomly want to tell you things to have a passing curiosity satiated. People of that sort are not why I’m here. I am here to try to help others like me or vaguely similar to me, and to help educate those who show some effort in wanting to help, too; especially if they have the goal of learning prevention to keep their own kids safe. That, after all, is the most important thing. Far easier to prevent than to make them endure a lifetime of trying to heal.

Also, please read As Ashes Scatter: My Story and About W.R.R. to learn more about me. It is quite jarring to have a (however well-meaning) stranger assume they know what abuse I suffered on the basis of one tweet.

In conclusion, it is also not helpful or appropriate to ask me how I feel today in reply to a serious tweet about abuse issues, or to offer “religion-based” comfort when you haven’t read the comment policy where I state that that is a trigger for me. I mean no offense, I just need to clarify these points to avoid feeling reluctant to tweet or speak out due to a fear that strangers will start assuming they are “buddies with privileges” and reply to me in ways that make me want to disappear. Thank you for your time and patience, and hopefully, for your understanding.

~ ~ ~

© W.R.R. 7/30/2013
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Seek help. Speak out. Find your path to healing.

http://www.asashesscatter.com
asashesscatter.com@gmail.com
@AsAshesScatter


Time Heals All Wounds? Time Lies

(Trigger Warning for child sexual abuse and rape. This is a plea to those who are not survivors of trauma; please try to understand how we feel, and what we face.)

“Time heals all wounds.”

This is a concept some swear by, while others disdain and reject it. I’m in the latter group. If I may argue semantics for a moment, take a look at the word “wound”. If you break your arm, a doctor puts it in a cast and it gets better; soon you can use it again and it is healed – just as good as new. For some people, it isn’t that simple. There are emotional, mental, and psychological wounds, and even some physical wounds, that don’t ever heal “as good as new”.

Sometimes damage from a car wreck or a wound received in military combat simply can’t be fixed as neatly as a broken arm in a cast. What of the person who can never walk again? What of the soldier who suffered a brain injury from a head wound and a good portion of his or her mental and physical capacity, and ability, are gone forever? Can we say time healed those wounds? Would those afflicted with them agree?

Emotional wounds are often lumped under the quaint “time heals all” verbal bandage, as well. The stages of grief are bandied about with the same blind fervor of a child rubbing a severed rabbit’s foot for luck. (Speaking of wounds that don’t heal, the rabbit never got his foot back.) People, both the afflicted and their loved ones, often mention this or that stage of grief as if they are an announcer watching a horserace: “He’s in denial, denial, now he’s in anger! Here’s bargaining hedging in from the inside rail, with depression surging up behind. Now coming around the bend, depression and acceptance are neck and neck. Yes! It’s acceptance, folks! Acceptance wins the cup! What a race!”

This chaotic rush to “get over” grief and trauma can cause serious problems down the road, whether the afflicted person rushes their own healing or others pressure them, often due to being tired of hearing about it all. Steps are rushed or skipped by the drive to “be better”, and the external and internal pressure for this can be equal in causing damage. The stages of survivorship (victim, survivor, and thriver) can be rushed in the same manner as the stages of grief. So too, can healing in general be rushed, and some things or stages taken out of the safer order.

Nobody should be under external pressure to “hurry up and get better” and we should all be wary of internal pressure in this area, also. Whether the issue is grief, trauma, injury, mental illness, stress, etc., a solid foundation needs to be built at each stage so that we have firm footing while we reach up to the next stage.

This is the same for things like reporting a rape; it is far healthier to be sure it is one’s own decision for the right reasons. Health, safety, mental health, etc. need to be considered. There is a lot of external pressure in the world to report; but if the victim isn’t ready and despair and social fallout lead them to suicide (or gets them murdered), what is gained? Yes, it is generally preferred to report; help catch the rapist so they don’t rape again, etc. Yet the laws need to change to help victims and survivors, too. The stats I read said that only 3% of rapists ever even spend one day in jail, and that is in the case of reported rapes. That means victims reported, but 97% of rapists go free anyhow. So why re-traumatize a victim who doesn’t feel safe to report? Help them to be safe, instead of pressuring them to act before they are ready. This goes double for a child who has been raped.

With traumas like child abuse, child sexual abuse, and rape, especially when victims are so young that their formative years are still ahead of them, studies have begun to show that things are happening physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally that can physically change the way the brain is wired. Pleasure is introduced via sexual abuse hand-in-hand with pain, in many cases leaving the person with their pain/pleasure wiring so mixed up that they get fused and no amount of therapy or medication can fix that. Trauma-caused problems such as phobias, PTSD, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, sexual dysfunctions, and mental disorders can manifest like a grab-bag of horrors. Only some of these things have medication that helps, or a way to work them out in therapy. Even so, survivors who have felt healed for years can be blindsided by a trigger and have to regroup and cope again to get back on their healing path.

Children like I was, abused and raped many times before the age of six, do not develop normally and have many other problems. Things like trust, love, empathy, and compassion can be terrifying and felt to be “not worth the risk”. The lucky ones get help right away, before the extremes of lies, guilt, and shame can set in and warp self-image and development; but many do not get help until years or even decades later – and some never get help at all.

These problems can overshadow a person’s whole life, and every aspect of their life. How can that person grow to trust and love, seek an intimate relationship, or function even half as well as those who were never traumatized? Guilt, shame, fear, and self-hatred bring other problems, such as: self-harm, unsafe sexual behavior, drug and alcohol addictions, and suicidal thoughts. It becomes a race to see if the damage will destroy a person before they can get help; yet even with help (therapy, medications, a loving support system), many of these problems and much of the damage still remains. Of course, the world doesn’t stop or even slow down for traumatized people, and things like nightmares, flashbacks, and triggers seem to lurk behind every corner.

So what can the traumatized person do? We can learn how to process and heal the things that we can heal, and we can learn coping skills for the wounds that refuse to heal. This is what therapy, medication, and the support of my loving new family helps me to achieve.

Still, it is an ongoing process that I may never be finished with. I was abused and raped for my first twenty-two years on this planet. The first nineteen years were spent as a trafficked sex slave in my parent’s pedophile ring; then the next years I spent homeless in a brutal world of prostitution, starvation, addictions, and still more abuse and more rapes. At this time, I’ve been abused for more of my time alive than I’ve had time away from abuse to begin to heal. In addition to abuse’s inflicted physical, mental, emotional and psychological damage, I am bipolar; a fact I tend to see as a cosmic joke being played on me.

In this state, which others can take breaks from but I cannot, I have found it to be horribly harmful, offensive, and condescending to hear others tell me: “Time heals all wounds.” Will the passage of time make my left eye heal and regain sight after my father ground it out with a lit cigar? Will time restore the mutilation of my face and body? Can time undo the fused pathways in my brain as abuse forged and derailed whatever it could of a child’s developing mind? Can time give me back my physical, spiritual, sexual, and emotional innocence?

This concept of passing minutes must be powerful indeed if it can restore lost experience, too. My first kiss was with my mother. My first time of “sex” was anal rape by my father. Learning to ride a bike? Never did. Prom? It didn’t exist, not for me. First love and making out, giggling with your lover? That was all twisted by my mother, who taught me how to service her from as young as three years of age. Learning how to “be a man” from my father? He taught me how to obey his every command, how to literally worship him as a god, and how to be terrified of him as he raped, beat, and rented my body. Yet time, that vague invention of mankind so that if we count the hours, we’d all know it was “Friday, July 5, 2013”? This concept of passing minutes alone is going to make my body, mind, and past whole and healed? No, it’s not. It can’t, and it never will.

Instead I learn to cope, to process, and through those things, I learn how to heal the things that can be healed. For the rest, there is more to learn about coping and processing, and maybe the healing path in front of me won’t have an end. Maybe healing, like learning in general, will just go on, indefinitely. Despair is a threat, as are triggers. Self-care is a vital lesson. I do not want to die. I want desperately to live. I want to watch my children, abuse-free and loved to bits, grow up and become… whatever they want to become. Through them, I can at least experience a pale echo of things most people take for granted. My oldest is eleven, but someday she may want to go to a prom. She already wants to go to college. My son can learn how to ride bikes, drive cars, and how to be a good man. My twins are only toddlers, but their joy in a simple set of blocks or a sandcastle is teaching me how to feel joy, even if my past mutes the colors and variations of it that they experience.

“Times heals all wounds” is a lie, and for many child sexual abuse and rape survivors it is also a trigger. I’d wager many wounded veterans, people with mental illnesses, and survivors of crippling car accidents may likely feel the same. It isn’t necessary to sooth the hairs on your own arm by handing survivors a hollow platitude like that.

Perhaps examine your thoughts, feelings, fears, and reasons for saying it. Do you sincerely hope the survivor or grieving person will someday heal? Then why not say that, instead? If you reach for the hollow platitudes due to being weary of hearing about that person’s grief or trauma… please don’t. It is far kinder to tell them you are sorry they are suffering and you hope they find their path to healing (and coping). Other hollow platitudes (for me) are: “I’ll pray for you”, “just move on”, “that was years ago”, “you have to forgive to heal”, and other similar empty or triggering words. If you care about being a good person, practice by being kinder to those in pain; especially when the wounds (like grief, mental illness, trauma damage) don’t show up as a visible wound. Perhaps get to know them a little so that you know what may help them and what may trigger or anger them. For instance, religious talk triggers me, no matter how much it may comfort somebody else.

A person suffering from PTSD, grief, trauma, or bipolar deserves the same kind consideration as the person with their arm in a cast; maybe more. After all, the arm will heal and be as good as it ever was. Not all wounds can, or will; for them, we learn to cope. Please help us to cope and heal as much as we are able to. If you can’t do that, then please stand aside in silence and let us get on with it ourselves. Thank you.

~ ~ ~

© W.R.R. 7/5/2013
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.

http://www.asashesscatter.com
wrr@asashesscatter.com
@AsAshesScatter