|Special note to readers:
- I wrote this piece quite a
few years ago. Mostly, I have left it as I wrote it, with a few,
very minor changes. I have grown in remarkable ways since I wrote
this, and have found that the little boy in me needs to tell his (our)
story less and less as time goes on. He has learned to trust me (the
adult), and I have learned to take good care of him. I never would
have believed, four years, ago, that I would be where I am today!
Warning! This piece is very triggering! I encourage
you to pick a safe time to read it, and would also encourage you to
use your support network if your "buttons" get pushed. Thanks, and
Break the Silence, Break
- I listened to a news report
about a neighborhood, in which a number of neighbors called police
when they heard a mother screaming and cursing, and hitting her child.
The police arrested the woman for assault. I started sobbing uncontrollably
when I heard this report, and I realized I was crying both in relief
for the child, as well as in overwhelming sadness because no one did
that for me, when I was a little boy. I heard also, in the news, that
one child every ten seconds is abused in our country. My God!
- I have also read of the
growing movement in parts of our country, to reinstate corporal punishment
for nonviolent juvenile offenders. I look at those sterile, detached
words, "corporal punishment", with a shudder, and I ache inside, when
I think of the number of people in our country, who do not see corporal
punishment as violence, or as a violation of a child's most basic,
God-given rights - to own one's own body, and to expect others
to acknowledge that ownership!
- Violence is a coward.
It hides inside families that look "fine" from the outside, and causes
both victim and perpetrator to hide from the outside world. In reality,
both are victims of its clutches. Violence is a liar. It tells both
victim and perpetrator, that its use is justified, until eventually,
they both believe its cunning lies. Violence almost seems to have
a life all its own, drawing others into its addictive and mesmerizing
clutches. Violence uses the logic of insanity.
- The continuation of violence
in our families can only happen if we keep its secrets, and protect
those who wield it. Families heal, only when members
speak out, and tell their Truth. Our greatest wounds become our greatest
gifts, because in the telling of our wounding, others may be moved
toward healing, and perhaps, still more may be moved back into recognizing
violence when they see it. (Many have eyes that are blinded by tears
that were never shed!). I believe violence is inherently evil. I
believe there is a line we cross, when we accept violence in any form
other than self preservation. I believe that when we cross this line,
we move into a territory that is comprised of greater and greater
dishonesty, and less and less compassion and empathy. I believe that
violence breeds more violence, and that its use is addictive, and
progressively uncontrollable. When violence has been used on us as
children, we may not recognize some of its forms, as an adult. We
cross a line, leaving the Truth behind, to live in a world of denial.
Many of us have crossed this line. I grew up in a family that had.
Neither of my parents ever crossed back. But I have crossed back over,
by both the Grace of God, and by the enormous strength and courage,
and resilience of one very special little boy. A special little boy,
who wants you to know how wrong violence in any form is. I know that
if you listen to his story without running from his feelings, you
will cross back over that line too. Listen to him now. Listen
with your Heart!
- My mother was all sharp
edges: teeth, and nails, and tight muscles, and clenched fists. She
had a rage that consumed her, and turned her into skin and bones.
Her rage consumed us as well. First, it was just me, and then it was
my sisters too; mostly, though, it was just me. She was quick to go
off the handle. It seemed like forever until the first blow, and a
year of forevers until the last. Every time, I thought would be the
last; not because I thought she'd stop, but because I thought she'd
kill me. I lived in that terror for years, until I forgot I was living
- It started when I was
four or five years old, and didn't stop until I was fourteen or fifteen.
Ten years of terror and despair. Ten years of loneliness and isolation
that turned into forty without my knowing it.
- Other times she took me
into her confidence, indoctrinating me into her way of seeing my father,
men in general, and worst of all, myself. She had crossed the line,
the first time that she hit me, and told herself that there was a
good reason for it. At a point in my teens, I realized that she was
crazy. That didn't make it any easier.
- Giving in to violent urges
always leads to greater and greater violence. It did with her. The
most frightening thing about her beatings, aside from my certainty
of being killed, was her shrill, out of control scream: a screeching
carnivorous sound. She used her fists, where she had used her open
hand. Ten or fifteen blows. I never counted, though, That would have
- One thing that was worse
than being beaten like that, was not stopping her from hurting my
sisters. I have felt guilty for that all my life. First I felt like
dirt because she beat me and convinced me that I deserved it; then
I felt worse when she beat my sisters, and I stayed frozen in terror.
We all believed her that we were no good and deserved this treatment.
There were some things that we never did again, because we had been
beat, but in this process, whatever was real, and authentic, and spiritual
in us, was all but destroyed!
- I remember this one time
when my sisters and I were washing and drying the dishes. We were
fighting about something, (I used to hate it when we fought). All
of a sudden, she came storming into the kitchen. She was screaming
and cursing at the top of her lungs. We all backed away from the sink,
ready for the first blows, not knowing who would get them. Instead,
she grabbed a butcher knife, and came after me! There was no where
to go! I thought about the back door, which was behind me, but I didn't
want to turn my back on her. I just stood and faced her, frozen, and
ready to die. I knew that she hated me enough to use the knife, she
certainly had told me enough times before. I wanted to cover every
part of my body, but I only had two hands. She stood above me, teeth
clenched, screaming and growling from the back of her throat, arm
raised. Every part of her shook. I don't know how long I held my breath;
sometimes I'm still holding it, even now. All this happened in about
thirty seconds. She spun around and took off after my sister Karen.
Both my sisters started screaming; their screams still echo in my
head when I think of it. Somehow my mother never used the knife, but
it left a wound in me that is only now healing.
- I believe that the door
to my heart was nailed shut, that day. It had been closed tightly
from countless spankings, then beatings and other forms of violence,
as my mother got worse. I couldn't remember the terror of that moment
until this year. It was too much. I'll be forty three in July. Sometimes,
now, even after eight years of recovery, I may still feel defective.
No matter what I do, there are times when my heart is closed. Sometimes,
I can lose the ability to feel close to others. Sometimes I lose the
ability to trust anyone -even God. Sometimes I can still feel like
an outsider, even when I am with trustworthy and accepting friends.
I have no control over these things! I especially hate it when these
feelings come back, because it feels like evil has won; because the
things that I'm feeling, are the very things that I was told as a
child (that I was defective, unloving and un-lovable). But, Thank
God!, I find that the door was only jammed. I go back to the way I
want to be, the way I really am. Eight years of recovery have at least
pulled the nails in that door!
- We must remember that
violence always echoes forwards in time, to haunt us later. I believe
that one of the worst things to come back from years of violent abuse,
is the loneliness. So intense, it can push one to the edge of despair.
When I was a child, that loneliness pushed me right over the edge.
The only thing that took that feeling of loneliness, and of despair
away was drugs and alcohol. It is no wonder I became an addict. Loneliness
and despair to a child, are a universe unto themselves. A continuum
that stretches forwards and backwards as far as one can "see". At
least it was that way for me. I suffered my loneliness and despair
in my bedroom, although I carried it everywhere, even, and especially,
into every relationship, into all plans or outlooks of the future,
into every area of my life. My room as a child was both sanctuary,as
well as torture chamber. It was where punishment was doled out. Many
of "my" beatings - Hell! - their beatings took place there,
and yet it was where I went to escape. My room had no door, which
meant that I had no privacy, no boundaries, no rights, and no escape.
I'd lay in bed, interested in nothing, knowing that I couldn't escape
them, wanting to escape their violence, desperately wanting some kind
of attention or stimulation other than pain, and terror, and gnawing
emptiness. Any time they'd start to come up the stairs, I remember
my sharp intake of breath, and the jolt of terror that I'd feel, like
an electric shock, moving upwards to stop my heart. Beatings
were the norm in my house, not beating hearts!
- Eventually, my father
was drawn into the violence as well. During those periods of time
when their lives were not going well, beatings were an almost daily
occurrence. I remember, also, the horrible feelings of betrayal, horror,
and sorrow. These feelings merged into something more terrible than
anyone could stand. I remember moaning from the deepest part of my
belly, wailing with such intensity, that I thought my chest and belly
would split open. That sorrow, and betrayal, and horror, were bigger
than me, bigger than the room, bigger than the whole world. That is
how I experienced it. While I was in this continuum of agony,(for
that is what a child experiences when confronted with violence,),
writhing, and whimpering, and moaning, and choking, I wanted to die,
if only I knew how. I do not know how I survived, I really don't.
- What I do know, is that
now as an adult, these feelings and others come back to visit. Feelings
that seem overwhelming, or never-ending, are often messengers of the
past. They are a cry from the past, to listen to the story of a valiant
little child's attempts to deal with forces that were overwhelming
to him. That little boy tells his story not in words or pictures,
but mostly through feelings. Feelings that get more intense, the longer
we stay with them. When we stay with them, no matter how painful it
gets, in the end we understand the story they tell. Violence does
exactly the opposite. It goes contrary to Life and Healing. It is
the child that we were that will tell you that! In no other way can
you know the true damage that all violence does. The child in you
tells you every day that it is wrong!
- A long time ago, the little
boy that I was, suffered long, suffered silently, and suffered alone.
I lived in a war zone, where there was no cease-fire, there was no
Geneva Convention, there were no treaties, no victories and no allies.
It wasn't right then, and it never will be. But the little boy that
I was, needs to tell his story. He has every right to tell his story
to anyone willing to listen. I have given him that opportunity, and
have embraced him and the wonderful gifts which allowed him (and me)
to survive. Listen to this child! He has found permanent sanctuary,
not in an unsafe bedroom with no door, but in my heart, now beating
with Truth, and Life, and Love.