Tag Archives: child sexual abuse

Trauma (present tense)

child in vest

I’ve been thinking about the hippocampus lately. I did a web search and found Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s tesimony. I’m pasting it below.

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” Ford says, her voice cracking. “The uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense.”

“You’ve never forgotten them laughing at you,” Leahy says.

“They were laughing with each other,” Ford replies.

“And you were the object of the laughter?” Leahy asks.

“I was underneath one of them, while the two laughed,” Ford says.

In an essay I wrote about my childhood sexual abuse, as I shaped and shaped the narrative, it became clear that most of the piece should be told in the present tense. I did this to replicate how trauma works in the memory.

The brain stem, the so-called lizard brain—the part of the brain that registers trauma—has no sense of time. The lizard-brain is the part that keeps us alive, eliciting a fight, flight, or freeze response. Because of the lack of time involved with the lizard brain, when long-ago trauma is triggered, it is remembered outside of time. The sensation is as if it is happening now.

Dr. Ford was questioned 36 years after she claims to have been assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh, but on September 27, 2018, when questioned, she says, “They’re having fun at my expense.”

Present tense.

A grammatical slip. But also true.

Because that’s how it feels.

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An apology I owe Dylan Farrow (what bends/what breaks)

thumb_IMG_9602_1024In the past, when talking to my classes about comedy, I’ve used a clip from Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors: Alan Alda’s character being interviewed by Allen’s character, and Alda talking about humor. (“If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it isn’t.”) It’s part of a discussion about discerning when something has gone just far enough but not too far, and where the boundary resides (highly subjective and context-dependent, but worth considering). Much as the clip makes a good point, and much as I adore Alan Alda (despite his not having disavowed Woody Allen, yet), this time, I didn’t use the clip. I didn’t want to elevate or even look at Allen, and didn’t feel equipped to have the necessary discussion about why.

This omission is a tiny act, almost unnoticeable.

I am not above reproach: for years, since the accusation that Woody Allen molested Dylan Farrow, I’ve been in denial, thinking HOW COULD HE HAVE DONE SOMETHING SO AWFUL? (For Buffy fans, it feels like that “Wait, Ben is Glory?insta-forgetting…as if my brain cannot contain the possibility that someone whose work I admire—and whose work provided me an early understanding of what art could do—could have molested a child. And then essentially married a child, another of his children. If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks…)

I grew up watching Allen’s films. His movies were formative to me, the early ones, the funny ones. Since hearing Dylan Farrow’s initial accusation back in 1992, I have been ambivalent enough, or in denial enough, or self-loathing enough to not boycott Allen. I haven’t actively defended him, but I’ve seen Wild Man Blues (featuring Allen and Soon Yi Previn) smore than once. I own the soundtrack to Everyone Says I Love You.

My own broken psyche apparently couldn’t excommunicate the filmmaker…was I passively accepting the notion that Dylan Farrow imagined her abuse, or had been brainwashed? As a seven-year-old child? At any rate, I was minimizing her pain. I looked the other way, just kept singing along to those catchy tunes, because HOW COULD HE? (Ben is Glory?)

I worked at the summer camp from which Soon Yi Previn was fired (a few summers before she was fired) and heard stories from friends about that big mess. I’m ashamed that I am only now thinking about this, and wondering what I can or should do (or not do), as a sentient being in the world, a person who believes the victims.

I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse. Why did it take me this long to stop with the Woody Allen apologies? Why have I turned away?

By continuing to celebrate Allen’s art, am I complicit in the abuse, by not condemning the artist?

A couple weeks ago (the same week I read about Eliza Dushku’s stunt man, and the Michigan State University nightmare), I read the NY Times piece, Dylan Farrow Accuses Woody Allen of Sexual Abuse in TV Interview.

That was a very triggering week.

And I started drafting this distant apology to Dylan Farrow. Believing the reality of abuse is hard enough for survivors. To paraphrase Bessel van der Kolk, from his book, The Body Keeps The Score, a big part of healing is feeling what we feel, and knowing what we know. Moving away from dissociation, from minimization, from forgetting. From looking away. It’s not as easy as it sounds, when a body has been violated. We don’t want to feel what we feel. We don’t want to know what we know. It is an ornate and twisty thing, memory. It’s hard enough without the disbelief of everyone else. We start to feel like we’re living a fiction, or we’re invisible, or don’t even exist.

People—usually those who disbelieve, or minimize, the stories of victims—often claim that if a person’s not coming forward or speaking loudly enough, it must mean memories are false.

I asked Dylan if there was any chance that this was a false memory, that she had been brainwashed.

“No,” she said flatly. “I think it’s more logical almost that the people who accuse me of being brainwashed are brainwashed themselves by the celebrity, the glamour, the fantasy, the pull they have to Woody Allen, their hero on a pedestal.”

The larger point, she said, is not her own suffering over the years, but the need to listen to victims.

And later in the same piece, Kristof continues:

One demographer’s new estimate is that at least three-fourths of women worldwide have been sexually harassed.

I am sorry for any time I have looked away, or minimized someone’s pain and suffering.

I’m left with the question of what to do about the art of perpetrators.

For now, I’ll find another way to talk about what is bending and what is breaking.

(because there’s always more.)

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More than 160 women say Larry Nassar sexually abused them.

MORE THAN 160 WOMEN
Who are likely many, many more than 160…because we don’t always feel safe coming forward. Because it’s sometimes too unsafe for our bodies to feel what we feel, and to know what we know. Because sometimes it’s scarier to speak than to remain silent. Because we were warned not to speak, because others who knew minimized our experiences, or looked the other way, or (fill in the blank). Because we don’t remember. Because why would we want to remember. Because because because a million times because, just because.

The exuberant reaction to the conviction of Larry Nassar, which I heard in the voice of the woman reporting it on NPR last week, which was impossible to hide, because she is a woman and who knows, maybe a survivor herself…that exuberant reaction is a feeling that’s been shimmering for me, below the surface of #metoo and among groups of women I talk to who are horrified but not shocked about these stories, these minimizations, these erasures, this looking away.

(The other day, I was writing the above blog post about several recent headlines dealing with child sexual abuse, and then I saw I was right, sadly, there’s even moreLarry Nassar, Sentenced in Sexual Abuse Case, Is Back in Court.)

**

And p.s. to any predators out there:

“Let this sentence strike fear in anyone who thinks it is O.K. to hurt another person. Abusers, your time is up. The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere.”—Aly Raisman, gymnast and six-time Olympic medalist

“Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”—Kyle Stephens, family friend

 

 

(fragments of process, & out from under patriarchy…)

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one theme, (at least) thirty variations (from 1971 Women’s Day magazine)

Here’s a piece of too-clever-wordy-nerdy-play-that-doesn’t-fit, torn from an essay I’m writing under the shadow of the toxic patriarchy.

The fragment won’t go back in.

Wanted to put it somewhere, thank it for its service:

Forget/forgive, unfortunate, those words with similar opening: we link them as if they are sisters, but they have so little in common. F-O-R. Three letters. A pile of bones.

(#me too) A raw list…

shadow of writer at Long Pond, Omega Institute, October 2017

shadow of writer at Long Pond, Omega Institute, October 2017

 

…of what’s helping me heal from childhood sexual abuse.

In no particular order.

  1. Dancing. These days, dancing = attending my awesome Zumba class in Yellow Springs. It’s liberating. It’s helping me unwind the long-bound-up energy in my pelvis. When I have a week without Zumba, I feel the lack. The teachers (Gina and Melissa) are wonderful. There’s a room full of women (and sometimes a man or two, too, which is great!), of various ages and colors of skin, and we drop it low low drop it drop it low low… sometimes we cool down to the Beastie Boys. It costs $2 per class; you put your money in the box by the door, the honor system. Close as it gets to perfection. At times, I imagine the room full of dancers as an army of survivors…I say to myself, “okay, predators, I dare you to enter this room. You want your ass kicked? Bring it on.”  Extremely empowering for a “nice” girl who was socialized to be nice and take care of everyone but herself.
  2. Being with other women who understand. I’m fortunate to have many strong and amazing female friends, and lots of people to talk to. Including my mother. The more I talk about it, the easier it gets to talk about. It also helps when I can remind myself that right now, many women are feeling exhilarated about #metoo and the truth-telling, and many are feeling vulnerable & exposed, and both, and yes, and every shade in between. It’s heady, and for me the sensation changes from one breath to the next with all this release of secrets and shame. This collective vulnerability feels new to me. (I know part of the newness to me is because I’m white, so I have felt relatively “safe” in many ways, walking around on the planet during my lifetime, unlike the experience of many people of color.)
  3. And I visit a skilled, compassionate therapist.
  4. Writing. Writing anything, but especially writing about it, in various forms, and writing letters to the inner critic, and writing, because it means I’m alive and I can use my voice. Like now on this blog post. Like when I run into someone later today at the store, and I’m sure something will be spoken, something from out of the shadows.
  5. Breathing. Similar to writing…I’m alive and I can use my voice. Sometimes breathing helps me remember that the past and the future are not real. Just now, this moment, is what’s real.
  6. Listening to (and singing) fortifying songs. Like “In The Roots We Are Together”, by Eleanor Brown, for ALisa Starkweather, which my dear friend Amy Chavez introduced to our circle last year, after that predator was elected president. Please find the lyrics below.

(How are you healing these days?)

Love, Rebecca

IN THE ROOTS WE ARE TOGETHER

by Eleanor Brown

I am still love 

I am still here 

Even in the ravaging crying of a river 

I’m breathing this fire whilst still under water 

I am still loving this heart on dilation 

Unraveling unending keep singing her forward 

I am still love 

I am still here 

We rise and we fall, are we wise or we fools? 

Are we walking us home, are we leaving it all? 

Cracking us open, gold digging down there 

Are we saving our lives, are we great saboteurs? 

In the roots, in the roots, in the roots we are together 

We are here. We are love.