I Get By with a Little Help from…
I have been writing about a particularly dark event and time in my life for many years now…fits and starts and paragraphs and chapters and short stories…over and over… ad nauseum…approaching it every way I can think of… …but something always happens to block my progress…giving me the perfect excuse to give up every time.
This time might be no exception. It has been the most frustrating combination of external interruptions so far. I have had a spate of health issues, sudden and serious, some no coincidence. And a massive computer breakdown which erased almost every version I had written over a 20-year period. I mean, gone!
This time, I felt like I was the star witness in a TV murder mystery… the only one who can put the bad guy away…it’s like I’m being warned not to testify, in terrifying and insidious ways…
Maybe I’m not supposed to expose my crazy relative, or his church, or that bad cop in Civil Rights Era Atlanta, Georgia.
But I am not backing down this time. (Can you hear Tom Petty in the background here?) This Seeker’s challenge has been so perfect for me because I’ve been forced to keep the outcome of light in mind, with every word I type. It’s has kept me from getting sucked back into the dark just from remembering all of it.
Apparently, I started out being kind of namby-pamby when writing about it. At that time, I was convinced I needed to protect readers from the disgusting details. That’s the feedback I got from my mentor/auntie, a best-selling author I deeply respect.
She said “Kathie, you have to remove all the sugar coating and tell us what actually happened.”
It took many years, but I finally did what she asked, leaving out no disturbing aspect.
To that version, she responded with “Well, maybe not THAT detailed!”
So, I am trying a completely different approach this time.
I am house-sitting for dear friends as I start this version. I am in a situation I rarely put myself in…alone for days (and worse, nights) in an unfamiliar house, in a very remote setting.
When I arrived here, I did all the things that, for me, are normal when I am staying in a new place. I immediately checked out all conceivable exits…finding the quickest routes away from the house, noticing all the exit dangers (locked gates, stuff to trip over, etc.).
I looked for any weaknesses in normal security (windows, door locks) and tested how they all sounded. And, I found the best hiding places inside the house…in case escape was not an option. I don’t even think about these things. I just do them.
It’s a pain in the butt to be me.
The point of telling you this is even though I have done a shitload of therapy and healing work on being raped, one result remains the same. I live my everyday life a little differently than most people.
“Being” seems an odd use of the verb. It implies a rape is currently happening, like it has “currency” in real-time. Which is why it’s precisely the right word.
Take a walk with me, with us, in some shoes that may be universal.
Once we have been raped, even if we’ve healed and moved on, we are at risk of feeling the trauma of the experience, as if it were happening right now.
Rape is forever, no matter how many years have passed since the incident took place.
It clings to our physical memory, psyche, cells, and soul. It remains forever “now.”
Rape is permanently embedded like an endless loop in a software program…always happening, forever in progress. It stays with us as an active state, hovering below the surface, for as long as we live.
In an instant, an event like this can become the very definition of who we are. Rape Victim or Rape Survivor, it doesn’t matter. A part of the act hides in a corner of our hearts…waiting….
The incident just goes on and on, granted less loudly with time and the difficult work it takes to heal. But intrusion, in any form can shock our bodies right back into high alert state. No matter how far we’ve shoved that rape into the back of our Secret’s Closets, hoping to keep it fast asleep, the tiniest trigger can wake it up, nightmare-screaming again!!!
Healing enables us to understand. Healing gives us an ability to move on with life, but rape is never really “over.” Never all the way finished. Never completely gone.
Here’s my personal version of why;
I can never not know the terror of being awakened with a knife at my throat.
I can never not remember the feeling of being held down in my own bed by two men.
I can never sleep so deeply again that I could miss the sounds of a break in.
And I will never forget the exploding sound of a gun being fired, right by my head, in the middle of this surprisingly quiet chaos… rousing the thought even if I survive this knife, I might still end up getting shot.
Enter… the Light
My life was seriously dark and depressing for quite some time after being raped. As life happens sometimes, there were several other harsh and traumatic things that also occurred in the years immediately following, like losing my mother, and then my baby, within months of each other.
But there were some wonderful events also. I just couldn’t feel any of the good things. For that matter, I couldn’t feel the bad ones either. I was pretty shut down, living my life on two levels. I looked fine. I was well trained from early childhood to hide pain or need so for years, I successfully skimmed the surface of my life, fooling most of the people around me.
But underneath all that…silent, seething, roiling, screaming in terror and wailing in grief.
I did not know how or why I was surviving that endless stretch of time….
There were so many ways light finally started to seep back into my life, slowly, undetectably at first. Some stunning examples, truly exquisite things…and some plain old regular-life beauty and joy. There were even some completely unexpected things…in that “I never dreamed this was possible” category…It took a lot to get my attention back then. I was immersed in my role of unaffected survivor, and deathly afraid to give up my numbness in order to trust this apparent joy coming my way.
But here’s the deal. The light was always there, and always available. I could have had it whenever I wanted. I just didn’t know that. Light is amazing, powerful, and miraculous, and inexorable.
But it is not automatically healing.
In most cases, light doesn’t force its way in to fill up all that damp, depressing space, simply pushing the darkness out of its way. That’s where we come in. We must be open to it. We must clean out our own pitch-black shelves, closets, and basements and attics, so we can invite it in. We have to keep our eyes and hearts open to make room inside ourselves for the illumination to takeover. And if we are not paying attention, we can miss huge, beautiful, divine flashes of radiance.
We might even end up eventually, with plenty of light, but if it just represents half of a constant battle-dark vs light-then we’ll have to decide if living in a constant war zone is enough.
My journey back to peace and joy took many years, with many angels along the way.
Here are the short versions of two of my favorite examples.
Early on in my recovery, I knew I needed my women to help me. The men in my life who loved me, simply could not keep themselves from rescuing and protecting me. Bless them all. They wanted to prove to me there were still GOOD men around.
Being raped, for me, had luckily not attached itself to any stereotyped category of gender or race. Instead, for me, it was immediately about personal power, a completely internal process. Even though at that time, asking for help and support from either gender was not a forte, I knew instinctively, I needed female role models who could more physically empathize, and advise, and model that inner strength for me. Some of those men were hurt by this and took it personally. The women understood and just sat by my side and waited…until I could articulate what I needed.
Eventually, I came across this book, written by a local woman, who had been raped, and while I was reading it, a plan for recovering slowly immerged.
The book, Still Loved by the Sun: A Rape Survivor’s Journal – Migael Scherer, was close enough to my own experience (not her rape, but the aftermath) I decided to ask my wonderful tribe of women to read this book for me, so I wrote a list inside the front cover. I asked them to sign it and write their reactions right in the book. Then each passed the book on to the next name on the list. It seemed important to me that it be the same book in the hands of all seven of them. They did it. It worked. I felt loved and supported by their willingness, and their words. That book now is such a precious well-travelled possession…an anchor…a reminder. Those women and their actions were the beginning of light making its way back into my shredded life.
Next story…and this one happened 10 years ago, long after I would have declared myself essentially recovered from that event in my earlier life.
Warning: the following story contains a few icky details…necessary for context.
I had to have an elaborate surgery on my hand and was given opiates during the process. Afterwards, I never took what was prescribed for recovery, apparently the amount they gave me in the hospital was enough to send my body into complete lockdown. Within days, I had an impacted bowel and had to return to the ER for help. The choice I was given was surgery, or manual manipulation to break up the block. I chose the latter, not knowing it would be one of the more painful experiences of my life.
This sweet, extremely tall (and coincidentally gorgeous) ER Doc had to treat me. So, there I am, feeling small and weak, with this huge man completely in charge of my body!
Let me just say here, our body absolutely “remembers” everything that has ever happened to it.
Oddly, mine did not flash back to being raped, at least not at first. Nope, my cells took me way down memory lane to repeated childhood incidents of anal abuse at the hands of a bigger-than-life, handsome male relative…all done under the guise of religious procedures.
The only surprise for me in the logical trigger of that ER experience was the re-discovery of just how firmly our body’s grasp is on our physical histories. Every single cell…every single event!! (The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk)
Luckily, these memories immediately made sense to me, having already done years’ worth of therapy about this issue as well. I was able to head off any lurking and threatening PTSD symptoms. And, the experience had the wonderful effect of helping me let go of more hidden, lingering darkness, allowing more light to seep resolutely in.
But apparently, I was still not done. (The Universe can be pretty pushy sometimes with its proffered lessons!)
As the dust settled from the ER incident (and probably because of all that new LIGHT coming in now) I felt an overwhelming compulsion to seek out that anonymous ER Doc to express my gratitude for basically saving me in such a tactful, professional, and relatively gentle way. I wanted to tell him why his actions and demeanor meant so much to me. How healing they were. I even had the thought “I bet these doctors, who are only with you during an emergency, never get thanked, especially for something like THIS!”
So, a few days later, I confirmed my Savior Doc was working, returned to the ER (able to walk this time) and asked the two front desk receptionists for 5 minutes with him when he was free, so I could thank him. While we were waiting, the two women at the desk started asking me questions about why this was so important to me, so I told them my story. One of them even cried and told me how wonderful it was that I was taking the time to say thank you.
But unbeknownst to these wonderful receptionists, this kind of simple request from a patient is unusual enough to be suspect, and on a level so threatening, it had already triggered a whole process involving the arrival of an armed security guard…in this case, a HUGE, 6ft 2in, 300 pound, uniformed COP!
Now, I am standing in front of this giant Black security guard (his race significant only because of the wealthy community in which this hospital is located). He has his arms folded across his huge chest and is glaring down at me. He is demanding to know what my intentions are.
For a split second, I become that 19-year-old, idealistic VISTA Volunteer, back in the Deep South in the late 1960’s, who actually believed I was going to save the world from racism…believed deeply, until just minutes before when those two Black men broke into our tiny slum-neighborhood shack…and raped me.
(Here, I will protect you from the specifics of my experience of Being Raped, but unfortunately for context, I need to tell you the absolute worst detail of the whole experience.)
Immediately following the event, two policemen show up, one white and one Black (unusual for 1968, even in slowly awakening Atlanta). They chase off the two knife-wielding guys. That’s right chased them off. No attempt is made to detain, question, or arrest them.
In my shock and stupor, I ask these cops why they let the guys go. The Black one lowers his head and looks embarrassed. And the white policeman looks right into my eyes and says, venomously, “What did you expect Honey? You are the only White Meat in the neighborhood!”
Deep breath. Grounding myself, returning to the Emergency Room front desk, I look over at my two new women friends. They can see I have become afraid so they both stand up and lean toward me and say, “Go ahead and tell him. Our Joey is just a big ole teddy bear.” Joey?? His name is Joey??
So, I tell big ole Joey why I am there. I ask him to listen carefully because if he won’t let me see my Doctor in person, he (Joey) will have to pass on my exact message, word for word. He must tell my Hero why I want to say Thank You, and how the whole experience has been a long-needed healing, on a much deeper childhood level than I ever would have guessed. And then he (Joey) has to follow it up with a great big Thank You hug from me.
Now, both women at the desk were crying and damned if Big Ole Teddy Bear Joey wasn’t welling right up with tears too!
Right then it dawned on me…the light was flooding in that day! A tidal wave of double healing, washing out the remaining dark corners of my basement, attic, and all my most secret dark compartments, its brilliance filling everywhere with clean, fresh, stunning, bright white light.
All the insidious dark left over from being abused as a small child, all the sickening black from being violently raped as an adolescent woman and all the confusing, murky charcoal still lingering from the recent extreme, but urgent, medical procedures as an adult… ALL of this faded into a background of soft, pale, almost warm gray, completely natural in its presence.
Here’s what I believe now.
All light creates shadows behind the thing it is illuminating. The secret is to befriend both dark and light. There could be unlearned lessons right there in that shadow.
Don’t waste that!
And then, we must open our hearts, reassure our bodies welcome each new flash, or flood of light that pours into you, into your life. It was always there anyway, just waiting for us to be ready.
These days, I live a fairly peaceful life. I can find light in every single day. Oh, it’s not that my body has forgotten how to take care of me, how to warn me in certain circumstances…. that’s all hard-wired now. But that defense system manifests itself as a fully integrated, healthy habit, just like good eating or exercising, no longer manifesting in its previous OCD form.
And if dark does start to creep in around the edges again?
I know now, exactly what to do.
No surprise, having written this now, I am aware of how this process has triggered some hefty new spotlights, extraordinary in their brilliance really, shining into still more dark corners that need a little cleaning out. I welcome that light.
It’s even helped me change verb tenses…from “being raped”, to “having been raped”.
I am so completely in awe of, and grateful to, Sreejit for coming up with these challenges. Some of them, this one especially, have not only made me dig deep enough to find my most meaningful stories, but also to find the words, MY words, to be able to write about them. (Refer to my Bio…I am NOT a writer!)
I’m thankful for Karuna for getting me off my butt in the first place to begin a blog. It has been rewarding in all the ways she said it would be, and in ways neither of us could have know. Living Learning and Letting Go
I’m so honored that for this piece, Marilyn Armstrong took the time, and had the balls (well, ovaries) to help me rewrite parts of this post and to share some of her own stories with me. Serendipity Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth https://teepee12.com/
I also am filled with amazement and respect for anyone who read this whole thing. Please accept my heartfelt thanks. I wish I could be more unconditional about it, but I really would like any comments or acknowledgements. I’m reminded of a verse in a favorite song…Breathe by Anna Nalick
Two AM and I’m still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer
Inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to
And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd
‘Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to
And lastly, maybe firstly, thanks so very much to my James. When I am working on one of these trips down the dark memory lanes, he has to muster some really tough exterior to defend himself from the shit I temporarily try to blame him for. (Closest target…my body remembering and all.) Oh, and he must do so without resentment because sometimes I really do need him to take care of me.
It’s no surprise to me in the middle of writing all of this, that my body would loudly protest the return to any of these memories. I had another way, WAY worse impacted bowel, requiring another ER visit. (Ten years later I knew to inform the very young doctor of my abuse history. Unphased, and in a very enlightened way, he performed his horrific task exactly like I asked him to…talking to me the whole time, and telling me exactly what he was doing and why.) What James had to sit through with me…. all I can say is he must really love me…
And finally, writing this all down this has inspired me to complete another project. I am fleshing out another article I’ve been working on for years. It’s called “One Perspective on the aftermath of rape”.
I am mostly inseparable these days, from my title of Gramma. But I also have important stories to share so I write. I do not want the title of Writer. I hate writing but am driven, reluctantly answering some insistent call to pass on the lessons.
So to be clear, I’m not a Writer. I just write.
Need more clarification? Ask me to sing a song. I sing all the time but I am not a Singer. One tune from me and you’ll get the distinction right away.
You can find my non-Writer writing (and some non-Photographer photos) at https://chosenperspectives.wordpress.com
Written for the From Darkness to Light event. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more information Here. But first, leave a comment and let Kathie know what you think about her words, and be sure to visit her over at Chosen Perspectives when you’re done.