Two years ago this month I started the external journey of trying to balance my outsides with my insides. By sharing my story and encouraging others to find ways to break their own silences around sexual abuse within families, I’ve seen over and over the devastating effects of silence.
Silence can hold us back, it can paralyse us, it can be a weapon but most of all it is the main reason sexual abuse within families persists. It’s what protects a perpetrator, it’s their most valuable asset.
The amount of cases and exposure sexual abuse is receiving in the news today is a tricky path to navigate. Too many articles and people will switch off or avoid the topic. Not enough and silence continues to be the perpetrators most valuable weapon!
For me, it’s no longer a choice. I recently discovered tons of messages in a folder I’d not seen, some dated back to 2011. 90% of them were people sharing their own stories. It’s made me see once again where I am hiding and the responsibility that I feel in recognizing others human experiences.
This topic is much bigger than me, it’s an epidemic and it’s also something I can make a difference with in my lifetime.
Please, if somehow you read this know that you are not alone and that sharing your own truth is a gift, both for you and for those who listen. My email is enzaliving (at) gmail.com.
2016 has been my year of absorbing some huge lessons. Actually 2015 was filled some pretty valuable lessons, but 2016, even though we’re only in April, is topping it.
I’ve always thought a lot about paradoxes, they seem to cripple me with fear. Fear based on what others will think of me? or what others will say? or how it will affect others? Really, this list is pretty endless when my mind heads down that particular rabbit hole.
But, I’d say the number one lesson and a common paradox is this:
Making significant forward motion without offending anyone or exposing yourself to fear is a paradox. But once you’re willing to relax those boundaries, it becomes a problem, one with side effects you’re willing to live with…
So, just like a very well functioning alcoholic, I compensated for all the fear and shame by making sure outwardly all seemed well adjusted, together, accomplished.
But there’s always a cost or consequence to any lesson and finally I understand that what’s not acceptable and what’s often a paradox, is silence in the face of oppression.
Boycott if you want, or participate if you want. But do not remain silent in the face of injustice.
This incredible piece of writing talks about the fight against prejudice and bigotry happening in South Carolina right now April 2016. Some people are choosing to break the silence in ways that they can.
I don’t know what the outcome will be but what I do know is this is yet another paradox we all face. (If you’d rather not read the article watch the clip below it’s summarized in 1 min.) And, please, think about any paradox(s) that have kept you silent on the outside?
Jimmy Savile’s story is not one I’ve spent much time understanding, but then I was sent a link to a recent BBC Documentary called “The Untold Story”. (You can watch the whole documentary below.)
Yet again it’s astonishing how common abuse is and how often the immediate reaction is scepticism with a strong need to be convinced. Let me just say this, if anyone is saying they are or were being abused, you can be certain that something important is or was happening!
For the vast majority of people it never occured to say anything until one day. That moment, and the reason for speaking, can usually be explained right down to the finer details of where they were or what they wore.
In the case of Jimmy Savile most of the victims thought no one would believe them. Hell, while JS was still alive four women came forward to the police who questioned JS and he flatly denied everything. Those four were warned that:
1) no one would believe them,
2) he would have the best lawyers,
3) they would be made to look like liars and,
4) their names will be plastered across the newspapers.
Whilst I agree completely that most journalists should remain sceptical and they do need to be convinced when they are covering a story. I’m astounded at how only after a tsunami of confessions, action takes place.
It’s messy this story, and all stories about abuse. There are very few ways to keep it simple and clean and straightforward. Often many people are involved and each one has their own interpretation of the events, of the people, and of their own experiences with those people and the idea of sexual abuse in general.
To me though, the most soul destroying reality is that there will always be the supports of the abusers. Those who say things like “Jimmy spent his whole life helping other people” or “Why did they not report it before hand”.
So often our abuser is our saviour, our confidant, the one who shows us love and attention or gives us something we are lacking, materially, emotionally or otherwise. This often translates in our brains as thinking we somehow asked for it. That we are to blame.
Even when we eventually realise and accept that it was not our fault, somehow in our heads it still takes convincing to remember we are not to blame. Connecting with our feelings is something we shut off early, and finding the vocabulary to explain those feelings turns into a life long quest. I know for myself I hate the idea of being perceived as weak or vulnerable.
One victim describes it as “I think it stopped me loving”. He goes on to explain that when he feels something he pushes it away and it pushes on all the other feelings that are locked away. Sometimes it explodes and people don’t see it coming.
By 2012 more than 500 people had come forward saying they had been abused by Jimmy Savile.
It feels as though we have reached a watershed moment in the prosecution of abusers. Now is the time for those good people who listened but did not hear to have no choice but to hear.
It happened to me when I posted a bed we were giving away on a facebook group. Within seconds people had responded, (I have since learned that even things for sale can have this type of speedy response).
Anyway, I kept getting messages to say we have sent you a private message but I could not see anything. After a bit of time I figured out there were tons and tons of messages, some dated months before, hidden in my messenger app.
Fast forward a few months and this morning I discovered even more messages. Yes, there were some from crazy people, but most of them, and there were too many to count, were valuable, honest, trying to connect with you messages that I cherish.
When people respond to my story or anything I write it connects me in a way I can’t describe in words only to say it’s like breathing. Their stories connect with the part of me that keeps me moving forward, keeps reminding me I’m on the right path.
Here’s the link to a blog post that will take you through the steps. NOTE: Even when you see some messages it’s IMPORTANT to click on “see filtered requests” as well.
In January I started a course with Brene Brown called Courage Works. Although I’m finding the on-line studying to be a challenge I am learning a TON from the research that has gone into her work and her own challenges.
One of these lessons has been the idea of Chandeliering. I’ve only ever considered Chandeliers those, usually large pieces, that hang from ceilings. But, it turns out, this is a common term in the medical world used to describe the kind of pain that someone cannot hide, even if they are trying their best to be stoic.
We call it Chandelier pain – like it hurts so much to the touch that people jump as high as the chandelier.
Chandeliering is especially common and dangerous in “power-over” situations or environments where, because of power differentials, people with a higher position or status are less likely to be held accountable for flipping out or overreacting…Most of us have been on the receiving end of one of these outbursts. Even if we have the insight to know that our boss, friend, colleague, or partner blew up at us because something tender was triggered and it’s not actually about us, it still shatters trust and respect. (Rising Strong pages 61-62)
I’ve done this and I’ve had this done to me.
Attempting to ignore emotional pain is Chandeliering.
I thought I’d pack the emotional hurt so far down it could not possibly pop up again and then BAM, something innocuous happens or a comment is made and the next thing I know I’m in a rage, my body is on fire and I want to cry or I am crying.
We can’t pack down hurt or shame, nor can we off-load it onto someone else. Well, we can try, but if we want to stay true to our own authenticity and integrity, these shame attacks ignite a world of living on egg shells and as a result it creates huge cracks in our sense of safety and self-worth.
Finding the right words to express how I feel has been a life long learning for me. I’m beginning to think that the biggest lesson I have received from this course so far is the ability to put words to my feelings and as a result set those feeling free.
It’s confirmation that the simplest ideas are often the most successful. In this case becauseit’s about very successful people who normally come with teams of people, completely on their own: it’s James and them and fixed cameras and that’s it.
They seem to find it liberating and there’s a joy in watching in a way that you know it’s not rehearsed, anything could happen.
Certainly it’s the music too, guess Music and Comedy is my humor medicine, what’s yours?
I became a Jay Lo fan watching this, funny how fast that happened.
Elton John is a legend, end of!
I’ve recently become a Coldplay fan. I know I’m a slow learner. They play and harmonize so very well together.
The idea of how we see things, and how this seeing differs has always fascinated me. Lately that fascination has accelerated, so, I was delighted when I came across this TED talk by Emily Balcetis.
It’s no surprise to me that our bodies and our minds work in tandem at figuring out how we see the world. Perception is subjective, that too makes a whole lot of sense to me.
But, how do we focus on our goals. Not on setting our goals, that’s a whole other story, but on reaching our goals and not giving up. How do we stay motivated enough to reach those goals when the original wiring could be faulty, as I know mine is?
The answer in this research suggests that understanding a little more about how my eye’s really SEE will help. It suggests that we see partly based on our eye’s capturing a thumbnail size visual of what ever I am focusing on. My mind then helps me fill in the gaps on everything else! This makes me even more aware how important it is that I untangle what I believe.
A friend and I went to see the movie “Spotlight” a few weeks ago, it totally rocked my world. I’d not watched any of the Oscars yet but I knew it had won best film, which had surprised me.
As I watched the movie unfold I felt convinced that it had to have won best screenplay too, I asked my friend but neither of us had heard anything. This is such an enormously tough subject to discuss let alone write a story on and portray decades, if not centuries of complexities in 2 hours and 9 minutes. They had one best screenplay too!
Of course the subject is close to my heart and I could not help but marvel at the similarities between abuse within families and abuse within the church. Silence seems to be the glue that holds it together.
When I was about 18 years old I watched a movie called “The working girl”. It was one of those movies that also rocked my world, I related on many levels to Melanie Grifiths. Although at that time I lived in a small town in the heart of Zululand, South Africa and had never heard of New York City, I knew I wanted to live and work on wall street some day. That movie and it’s incredible music helped me create a dream that came true 14 years later.
Another striking moment came to me later that same night as I googled my way through the making of the movie and devoured all that I could about the reasons it was made, who was behind it and any information I could gather on how tough it must have been to be those investigative journalists and hold back enough to publish only when they knew it was unquestionable.
This first article was published in 2002 the same year that I moved to NYC. I never saw it then, hell, I was still deeply in silence myself but it somehow connects inside of me that I moved to the USA 2 months after the 1st article and in the middle of the 300/600 articles that followed yet I never read one!
Here’s the trailer – Now that it won best film perhaps people will be open enough to watch it!
A friend recently sent me this article; it reminded her of a recent email exchange between us. The idea that the invisible ties and the invisible wounds are the hardest to see and the hardest to heal.
Jessica Knoll was gang raped at the age of 15. It happened at a party where she had drunk too much and flirted with a boy. An instant reminder, to me, of the movie The Accused only in Jessica’s case, it took many years to figure out that she had been raped, after all “no one was calling it rape”
It was only after the success of her book and many years of therapy that Jessica admitted the truth to herself and to others. Now another journey begins, ‘Why have I waited so long to say that? What was so hard about that?”.
Like Jessica, I know what it is like to shut down and power through, to have no other choice than to pretend to be OK. Survivor mode came naturally to me and, as I am learning, comes naturally to many of us.
But, like Jessica, I have also realized there is no reason I shouldn’t say what I know. Telling our stories is a very empowering process; it allows us to take ownership of our own narrative, which in tern gives us the power to decide how we want it to end.
I spent far too long keeping silent and defending those that hurt me as a child. Finding reasons in my own mind about why they are the way they are, finding ways to feel their pain.
I also ached for guidance and protection and for someone or something to help me release the mute button on my voice. Even after visiting my step farther and having this face to face conversation with him about why he did what he did. Even after this experience, I went back into my silent, shame filled shell.
Through out my life I was certain that the right job, right country, right clothing, right places to live would transcend my reputation with myself. It did do a great job of convincing everyone around me that I was so put together, so accomplished, so settled, so brave………but I did not believe in myself that my own voice was worth hearing.
I too know that
“I made the mistake of thinking that living well is the best revenge.”
“That I figured out, eventually, that the appearance of living well is not the same thing as actually living well. And even if it were, revenge does not beget healing. Healing will come when I snuff out the shame, when I rip the shroud off the truth”.
Like many of us I’m rusty at speaking the truth and, since I’ve learnt that speaking my truth does not mean I am safe and that speaking the truth requires many many moments of repetition what I have learnt here is that the truth is the start.
And on the topic of Truth there’s this great article called “Radical honesty”. It’s based on the theory that everybody would be happier if we just stopped lying. Tell the truth, all the time.
I think that life is full of really good times and really bad times, for everyone, regardless of what kind of pain or trauma we’ve experienced. Where I agree with this theory is that when we start sharing our truth we start to see how we’ve spent so much of our time dancing on eggshells without even knowing it.
We approach “controversial stuff on our tippy toes” but, telling the truth starts to separate all those cubbyholes of our personalities. It has made me feel a connection with others I’d never experienced before and it helps me see how much power I give to my secrets.
The truth is a hard edge to navigate but like all things worth doing, if we don’t give up, and if we keep finding ways to tell our truth peacefully we’ll find ways to feel the peace within us. This, I believe, is what we all long to feel and only truth telling helps invisibility connect these ties.
About 8 months ago I was asked by someone I respect a great deal to write an article on the lessons I learned by visiting my stepfather (who sexually abused me). I thought about it for a day and said yes, then 3 months later I admitted defeat and sent an apology letter saying I just could not do it.
About 3 months later this person sent me a gentle, nudge of an email to ask if I would re-consider writing down the lessons. My respect for her and the way in which she asked me really pushed me to question why on earth I’m doing the work I am doing and reminded me of one of my core values, which is to share what I learn.
It took me another 3 months and I finally sent that article to her. Although it has not been released yet I have not stopped thinking of the lessons and in particular Lesson No1, which for me was finally becoming aware of the invisible ties that bind us and how the invisible wounds are often the hardest to mend.
Today I discovered a documentary titled “Invisible Scars” and I am reminded that we are truly in this together. Included the trailer below, I’m off to see how I can get myself a copy.