I’m going to get personal here, because I can only really talk about my own experiences with any authority. When I was a child I was viciously molested and raped by a man in my neighborhood. This abuse lasted the better part of sixteen years, mostly when I was very young, starting at age two until about age ten, but then intermittently until I graduated from high school and left home at eighteen to go to college. How could this happen, you might ask? How could parents, relatives and teachers not know what was happening? Did she not tell anyone? These are questions that I confronted over and over again as I recapitulated this segment of my life in a three year period beginning in 2001. Today, I specifically address the above questions because I know that anyone who has suffered abuse, sexual or otherwise, must also confront these questions.
I came from a family that was set up to ignore and deny even the possibility of such abuse. Perhaps most families are this way. My mother, a deeply depressed and angry woman, could not abide feelings of any kind. Perfection in everything was demanded and expected, nothing was allowed to ripple the surface of that perfection, no weakness within the family structure that she had created was allowed. If dissonance, conflict, trouble, or even emotion of any kind appeared it was quickly shut down, pushed away, swiftly disposed of, disappearing from sight and memory. My father, a deeply sensitive and deeply fearful man went along with this family structure. He spent his feelings elsewhere in giving time and energy to a long list of public service organizations, to other children and families in dire circumstances, to the poor, the depressed, the mentally ill. Within our own family everything was perfect, no sign of discontent, no sign of weakness, no sign of despair was allowed to leak out, the walls were solidly built and the entryways blocked. As a child, I quickly learned that this was how I too was supposed to construct myself, with strong barriers, not letting anything out, but also not letting anything in. This was, I believe, how the abuse I suffered could take place and my parents not “know about it,” because they chose not to. It didn’t fit into the world they decided upon, created and lived by.
I was seen as and indeed was an extremely shy child. This characterization never left me; it followed me into adulthood. The abuse, starting at such a young age, coincided with my emerging personality and perhaps created this withdrawn child self, but also the strict requirements of behavior upheld at home left little room for a true child self to evolve outwardly. The lessons and structures learned there fit well into the outside world, into the Catholic school I attended where we were taught how sinful it was to think about the self in any way, that selflessness was the most important of virtues, so how could I dare to speak about myself? My problems were nothing compared to other children in the world. Basically, I learned to maneuver through life according to the rules and demands of the authority figures in my life. I acquiesced and took the journey that was presented to me, with few options and little energy to do otherwise, so intent was I on keeping myself safe and protected no matter where I went.
My abuser groomed me from a very young age. In the beginning the abuse was made to seem like games, strange games, often painful games, but over several years they became part of a process, unfolding in a different world from that of my closed family world; however, the requirements of those two worlds were really not that different. I went from one secret world, where obedience and absolute allegiance were required to the other where the same structures were in place. I learned, over time and through hard won lessons, how to seamlessly maneuver within and between these two worlds, and as a result they rarely intersected. On occasion, when they did threaten to collide, I found the means to contain and protect myself, to keep myself safe, by dissociating, by turning to new worlds of my own in creativity and imagination. I sensed the ever-present potency of mental disintegration, but I avoided it the same way I had been taught to avoid any feelings or emotions; I shut it down, pushed it away, and carried on, withdrawing from that which threatened to trigger it.
In essence, I learned what my parents taught me. You don’t speak about yourself, your feelings, your problems. Instead you get depressed, you harden yourself, you get busy and spend your energy on others, but above all you never crack, you never let anyone see that there is anything wrong with you. It was perhaps the biggest and best lesson I could have learned at the time. In essence, the parents I received gave me the lessons I most needed at the time in order to survive, but in so doing I was also perpetuating a lot of secrets and lies, having to live out rules and mental constructs that did not really belong to me. I had to uphold my parent’s world. And even though, for a long time, it worked for me, one day I could no longer bear the burden of it. I could no longer carry forth the long held secrets, my own or theirs, and that was the day I knew I had to recapitulate that part of my life. It had ruled me for too long and I wanted to be free of it.
That was the original intent of my recapitulation, to set myself free of what did not belong to me and from what I had kept pushed down inside me for so long. I finally decided, consciously or unconsciously or a little of both, that it was time to let the child self speak about what had happened to her, to offer her the words to say what she could not even begin to fathom. She needed an adult to put into words the horrific events of her life, to make sense of them and to break the long held silent pacts that had been established before she even knew she existed, the pacts set in place by the adults in her life.
To me, this became the impetus that sent me on an awakening journey, an awakening that had been triggered many times, on many occasions in the past, but that I had to be in alignment with in order to truly begin to confront the lies, the secrets, the structures of a world that was not really the world I wanted to live in. The recapitulating of those early years of my life was a most painful journey and I admire anyone who dares to step into the mire of their past and confront the petty tyrants and fearful demons who stand blocking life from unfolding as it truly can.
I know what it means to feel now, to feel not only emotionally but physically everything that happened and happens to me. But I also know the liberating feelings of freedom from that which does not truly belong to me. I know what it means to embrace my truths, my desires, my needs, and my perceptions of a new world, under my terms. I know what it feels like to wake up every day knowing that I conquered the past, knowing that I won all the battles this time, on my terms, in my way, using inner work; truth and honesty my only weapons.
I discovered another thing as I undertook the recapitulation adventure of those early years of my life. I discovered a spiritual core that was as indestructible and strong as I always knew it was, the core that kept me whole and safe, even as I took a most disheartening and painful childhood journey. I rediscovered what it was that kept me alive and sane all those years. It was myself. It was myself finally freed of everything that had been imposed, and once reunited with that true self the adventure took on a momentum of its own. It has not stopped even though I still must recapitulate what comes to greet me on a daily basis. But honestly, that childhood past is done. It is solidly placed in the context of who I am and where I am going now. Now is all that matters, but I would not be present, facing oncoming time, NOW, if I had not dared to face the past and free myself of it.
I offer this essay today to all of you who are taking the first steps into the journey of recapitulation, to those who are well into it, and to those who fear venturing inward. I can only stress again, in so doing you will become free. You will become YOU. It’s a pretty great place to be!
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Sending you all love and good wishes,