The Wounded Recognizing The Wounded

“That happened to me, too,” she whispered, reaching for my hand. I stopped walking and pulled her around to face me. “What?” I immediately looked around, searching for eyes and ears, a chill spreading throughout my body. Somehow I knew my friend was about to tell me something she’d never told anyone before.

The tall, frail-looking woman out on her daily walk passed by my house at the same time each day. I was often outside working in the yard. She wore a baseball cap and glasses that turned dark in the sunlight. I never saw her eyes, but her head remained down; I knew she wanted to stay incognito. Like clockwork, she would return one hour later, eyes still focused downward, heading for home. There was a terrible sadness about her that made me uncomfortable, yet intrigued me at the same time. One day, I got the nerve to say hello. She responded, and we talked a little more each day. I decided to ask her if she’d like company on her walk and she agreed. I had always enjoyed fitness walking, and now I jumped at the opportunity to break out of my own isolated lifestyle, even at a snail’s pace.

Her name was Margaret. It turned out she was in her early 60’s—not 70’s, as I’d guessed. Although married with an adult child and grandchildren, she admitted she lived in seclusion, staying in her bedroom reading and knitting, and leaving the house only to go on her walks. She told me that for no known reason, her body had always been wracked with pain. I had to lean in to hear her when she spoke; her voice trembled as though she shouldn’t be telling me these things. For some reason she trusted me. Was it the wounded recognizing the wounded?

Margaret was the first person I ever told I was writing stories. “Vignettes about my childhood,” I told her, hoping it was explanation enough to mask the dark childhood stories that I was really writing about. It worked. “Oh, how wonderful!” she replied. Without asking for details, she encouraged me to keep writing. Interesting, I thought later, how secret-keepers don’t pry.

It was on one of our walks in the hills above our homes, a forested place free of people and worries, that I told Margaret the truth. That I was actually writing a memoir about my childhood. I hemmed and hawed getting it out, and when I said, “My stepfather molested me over many years, and my mother knew but wouldn’t help me”–that’s when Margaret grabbed my hand.

“It happened to me, too.”

I felt like I’d just been punched in the gut. Margaret? Molested?

“What?” Her moist, rice-paper-thin skin stuck to mine when she grabbed my hand.

“I was twelve. After babysitting for my parent’s best friends, the husband gave me a ride home, only—he took a detour.” Margaret’s trembling voice trailed off, and she stared at the ground.

“Did he do something to you, Margaret?” She nodded. I wrapped my arms around her, and then she told me what happened. The man had dropped her off at her house afterward and said nothing. She went directly to her mother who then went to the telephone to get to the bottom of it. Her mother returned, angry, saying Margaret had lied, that she’d humiliated both families with false accusations. The next day her mother took her back to the man’s home where she’d babysat the night before. She was unable to look her abuser in the eye. She apologized to both the husband and wife for telling a lie, as instructed. They said they forgave her, and the man told her “no hard feelings–you can continue babysitting.” The abuse continued.

Margaret said she’d never told anyone before. Fifty years had passed. She’d been unable to make friends or complete her education, and she had spent much of her life going to doctors trying to find the cause of her debilitating body pain.

Margaret and I continued talking about our childhood experiences over the next few months. Neither of us knew what to do with the information we had revealed to one another. While we both had a need to talk about it, the shame of telling another person became too much. “The world’s gonna come crashing down now” feeling was always present. Margaret eventually stopped walking by my house. Part of me breathed a sigh of relief.

When you’ve been taught not to tell, and then you do, even if it’s to another person who is revealing you their secrets, you beginning wondering if you can trust them.

I would be interested to hear if others have had this type of experience.

 

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It Takes Strength

STRENGTH

It takes strength to fit in,
It takes courage to stand out.
It takes strength to feel a friend’s pain,
It takes courage to feel your own pain.
It takes strength to endure abuse,
It takes courage to stop it.
It takes strength to stand alone,
It takes courage to lean on another.
It takes strength to love,
It takes courage to be loved.
It takes strength to survive,
It takes courage to live.
(unknown)

It’s Time To Get Back To It

In my first blog Writing Through The Monsters of My Childhood I talked, rambled, and sometimes whispered, through my secrets and shame. Some days I was hell-bent on stopping the child abuse still prevalent in today’s world. Other times my focus was on adult survivors of childhood abuse. Then there were those days I was just hanging on by jagged nerves, trying to remember to breathe when something triggered an emotionally wrenching memory.

I didn’t begin writing my childhood memories until I was 57 years old. That isn’t when my life first started unraveling. From early childhood, there were loose threads. I was always in a state of unraveling. Then, at midlife when the thread had nearly reached its end, I asked myself (what I suspect many trauma survivors ask themselves): “Why am I still here, and what purpose do I have in this, so far, wasted life?” That’s when I decided to start writing through those monsters of my childhood; I believed the answer would ultimately reveal itself.

I finished “downloading” my memoir in a year, and over the next two years, I produced four more drafts. The thought of publishing distracted me. It muddled my mind, terrified me, and really slowed me from completing the book. That’s when I began blogging. I wanted to reach out to other survivors for support. I didn’t understand the magnitude of my PTSD until I wrote a blog post about not being able to have a relationship with my daughter, whom I met 27 years after she was stolen from me at her birth. I had dreamed of us reuniting, but I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the image of her father (my rapist) in her face. And, until I wrote about my childhood pet being served up for dinner, I didn’t understand what had always triggered my fear and anxiety about owning animals.

When I sent copies of my first draft to people who I knew would be honest and tell me if my story was worth sharing with others, I shed tears from the validation I received. A doctor, social workers, and university professors said me, yes, the story should be told, it will help others. I learned a lot about myself through blogging, and now that my story is out there, I feel the need to add my “voice of experience” to the story. I’ve learned a lot from writing it. I had misconceptions about what the end result would be. I’ve learned that many other authors of the personal memoir have this experience, too. Healing isn’t magic. Sometimes the word forgiveness triggers suffocating anger. It’s a place not everyone can go to. Feelings of failure when you have setbacks are right there waiting for the opportunity to crush your progress. It takes time to come to the reality that sometimes you can’t just write away the pain.

I will continue my healing journey here. As distracted as I’ve become with the state of the world–sometimes losing hope for the future, I want to refocus on what I know continues amid the chaos. Children are still being neglected and sexually abused; sexual assault continues, and people who feel alone still suffer in silence.

It’s time to get back to it.