Tag Archives: Shame

Maybe They Won’t Notice!

I recapitulate another memory of the bad girl, the imp inside me. I am walking with three boys and my cousin. I am eleven and my cousin is a bit younger. The boys are a year or so older than me. We’ve all known each other our entire lives. We’ve played together since early childhood.

Gotta’ love it, the nature in all of us!
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

One of the boys nervously asks, “Do you know what this means?” He makes a rude gesture with his finger. Another of the boys asks if we know what fucking is. The others laugh, but I can see they are all very nervous. I pretend I don’t know what they are talking about, though I know everything. My cousin says she doesn’t know and I don’t think she does, she’s telling the truth. One of the boys pulls out a condom. I see it quivering in his shaking hand. “What about this? Do you know what this is?” I have never seen one before so when I answer that I don’t know, it’s actually the truth.

We are on our way down to the swimming pool. It’s nestled in the valley, a mile or so down from the mountain where we all live. We spend our summers there, swimming in the pool and sometimes the nearby pond, boating and fishing too. There is a cold mountain stream that runs near the pool. There are copperheads and other large snakes around the stream and up the slopes of the mountain that is covered with pines, maples, and oaks. Tall pines surround the pool too. We ride our bikes down or walk, sometimes a parent will give us a ride, but the pool is unsupervised, no lifeguard. Mothers come with small children during the day, but often it’s just a bunch of kids swimming, diving, playing. The fathers come down to swim after work.

Today is cloudy and cool, late in the day, perhaps early summer or late spring. No one is at the pool. It’s totally deserted, just the five of us, talking and joking around. One of the boys asks me if I will go over to the outhouse and dressing room with him, so we can try out the condom.

“No, of course not!” I say.

They try a few other tactics to get us to do something with them, but we stick together, wary of their eager energy. Finally they come up with the idea that we, my cousin and I, should swim naked for them. Skinny dipping! The thrill-seeking imp in me immediately agrees, the ecstasy of it, the cold water on bare skin, the heart-pounding experience of doing something forbidden! I just can’t say no, and my cousin is equally daring and agreeable.

We take off our clothes and run and jump into the pool with a shriek as we hit the cold water. Like three movie directors the boys stand beside the pool and instruct us. Do headstands, flips, back flips, they say. They laugh excitedly, telling us to go slower, so they can get a better look. My cousin and I know exactly what we are doing and what they are looking at, what we have between our legs, that place where the condom goes. They egg us on, but we soon realize that we have the power. They are mesmerized.

I don’t remember how long we stay in the pool somersaulting and showing off our twats, all of us laughing and having fun, but suddenly the boys take off running. With a surprised yell they scatter, running toward the stream, leaving us girls alone. We had been making so much noise that we didn’t hear a couple approaching, the parents of some friends of ours, out for an early evening walk. Suddenly there they are, standing near enough to the pool to see what we are doing. How long have they been there? Panic sets in. The looks on their faces says it all: BAD!

They do not leave. They go and sit on a bench by the pond. My cousin and I are naked captives in the pool, our clothes lying on the ground some distance away. We will have to get out of the water in front of this man and woman. We discuss how we are going to do it. We agree that “really fast” is the only way. We decide we will jump out of the pool, run to our clothes, grab them and run to the dressing room.

“Maybe they won’t notice,” I say, ever the hopeful one. “Maybe they didn’t really see that we’re naked. Maybe they didn’t notice.”

We do as discussed, hop out of the pool, run and grab our clothes and dash over to the dressing rooms. The man and woman sit on the bench and stare, their faces stiff with the kind of disgusted look that only disapproving parents can have. Of course they see us! We fumble with our clothes. Soaking wet, and no towels to dry ourselves with, we pull them on as best we can. We decide we will nonchalantly saunter past the disapproving couple, for they sit smack in our path, blocking the only way out. We are not about to head toward the stream and all its snakes as the boys had.

“We will be calling your parents,” they say, glaring at us as we walk by, as we say a friendly hello, as if nothing has happened, as if they did not just see us naked, as if they did not see what we were doing with those boys.

My cousin and I walk slowly, reluctant to face what we know is coming. Maybe, if we delay, our fate will shift, but we both know we have to face the music. My cousin’s house is closest so we go there. The news has already reached her mother. She is waiting as we walk in the door. She has company, so the company also knows what happened. One of the guests is a woman I have long admired, independent, tough, not physically attractive but I have always sensed her beautiful soul. One day I overheard her say, “What a beautiful child!” Now I am no longer her beautiful child. I am a monster. I am embarrassed and ashamed that she now knows the true me.

“What am I going to do with you kids? What next?” my aunt yells, but we see that she is laughing behind her stern look. “Get out of my sight,” she says.

We go to my cousin’s bedroom. That wasn’t too bad, her mother has a sense of humor, but my mother is different. I am reluctant to go home. The phone rings. It’s my mother, yelling at me to come home immediately. I can hear the cold, controlled anger in her voice. My cousin looks at me with big sad eyes.

“Uh oh, you’re going to get it, aren’t you?”

I walk home as slowly as possible, but eventually I arrive. I am ushered up to my room by both of my parents. They are dressed for the evening, my father in a suit, my mother in a flowery summer dress, ready to attend a party in the neighborhood. My mother is livid. I am spoiling her evening! I am an embarrassment! I am a disappointment! I am a stupid girl! Why do I do these things! How is she ever going to live this one down! What is she to tell people!

I am in tears, apologetic. I know she hates me, my mother hates me. Then I notice that my father, sitting on my bed, is covering his mouth. His shoulders are shaking. He’s trying to hold back laughter! He gestures to me to keep quiet. He doesn’t want my mother to see him laughing!

My mother delivers the punishment. I am grounded. I am not to leave my room for the next three weeks. I am never to play with my cousin again! My father shrugs his shoulders and with a goofy look on his face follows my mother out the door. I hate my mother! What a bitch! The boys don’t get into trouble; they get away with being boys. Girls are troublemakers.

I really was not allowed to play with my cousin after that. I would sneak off with her anyway, but I always got caught. My mother would find out, somehow, where I was. She’d call on the phone, anger in her voice, or she’d just show up and drag me home. It was an effort on her part to both keep me safe from my inner imp and to save her own face.

What’s the lesson in this recapitulation? There’s always a lesson.

Even as the imp inside me led me on another harebrained adventure, she also came to my rescue. The skinny dipping and the subsequent discovery by the man and woman saved me from some other fate, perhaps being raped by three oversexed boys. It’s interesting to note that though I was, at the time, being sexually abused by a grown man and his cohorts, whom I could rarely deflect from their evil intent, and amnesiac to that side of my life, I had no problem saying no to these boys. Perhaps it was the experience of discovering normal preadolescent sexual energy, power, and excitement that spurred me to engage in precocious exploration. The other side of me, the abused girl side, was deeply hidden, unconscious inside me. She never showed up alongside the imp.

These boys were friends. We’d all been naked together in the past, playing caveman and cavewoman in the woods, building lean-tos and acting out what we thought were primitive man woman relationships. But those were more innocent times. We were all younger then, exploring our bodies in childish, nonthreatening ways, showing each other what we had inside our pants but never really intruding on each other, except with minor touching. Innocent enough, but I instinctively sensed something else going on this time.

The boys, though gawky and nervous, were looking for some other experience, a willing participant to try out intercourse for the first time with. I was not willing to go there with them, but I also had to accept the power in the pussy, so to speak—oops that imp again!—for once in the water it was very clear to me that I was the one who was really in control. I had what they wanted. It was a personally powerful moment of acceptance of my female enticement. Even though I was not using it for sex, I was using it to control three boys who thought they wanted an experience of it. I was totally in control. My mother was right, I really was a bad girl, a dangerous imp.

I am once again thankful for the imp inside me who teaches me and instructs me as I make my way through life. As a child, under the dominance of my parents and their expectations, and as a child who was sexually abused, I nonetheless had other formative experiences throughout my childhood; the imp inside me made sure of that! She had a knack for showing up at just the right time, offering salvation and adventure, and I could never refuse. She continued to offer the thrills so badly needed as compensation for a traumatic childhood.

Beyond compensation, she led me into the normal unfolding of becoming a sexual being, discovering indeed the power of the pussy or, in the deepest sense, the power of the feminine—Yin, Female Nature. I am forever grateful.

A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries

A Day in a Life: Confronting the Uncomfortable

WARNING: Please note, as the title suggests, this blog contains adult content that may be disturbing. If you are in the midst of doing deep work it may be too uncomfortable. Please don’t read it if you feel you may be triggered.

It was important to keep going back into the woods, for as dark as it was that was where I found the light... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
It was important to keep going back into the woods, for as dark as it was that was where I found the light… – Photo by Jan Ketchel

By the time the second year of my recapitulation journey began I was confronting some very deep truths. I’d already recalled hundreds of visceral memories of rape, sodomy, and other forms of sexual assault, as well as deep emotional trauma. As hard as the memories were to accept, my psyche would not let me refuse them. I had to face what was coming through. Here is what I wrote on July 1, 2002:

The memories come like bombs, fast and furious, explosions taking place in my own private war zone. As the bombing missions fly overhead I crouch down and hide, shielding myself from their impact, but in so doing I know I’m refusing to connect with what’s being triggered at a deeper level. I catch a glimpse of something new as each memory bomb explodes, but I still refuse to fully accept what was truly happening to my child self. Jolted, the frightened self turns away, though it’s practically impossible to do so, for the pains are almost constant now, present throughout the day; my hands numb, my shoulders tense, my genitals sore and painful. I don’t have a choice in how this recapitulation process is unfolding—just as I never had a choice when I was a child—it’s just happening. I know what a frightened little bunny feels like; heart beating so hard you’d think it might burst.

On that same day, I went deeper still and confronted what was really being presented as my next challenge. I just couldn’t ignore it:

I admit that I’m avoiding the stark truth that my abuser was having sex, in one form or another, with a very small child, and that child was me. It’s been the hardest part of this recapitulation to accept. Even while excavating all the pieces of the puzzle of the unknown self over the past year and discovering the mysterious, hidden world of my childhood I wasn’t always able to face what my abuser was actually doing to me. Now as new memories torpedo into awareness, the truth presents itself all over again, but each time I admit that he was indeed having sex with my tiny child self, overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame come tumbling out of the depths of me. At the same time, I know I won’t be able refuse the blatant truth. I must fully accept what was truly happening so long ago, and my body insists, not letting me rest until I do. As soon as I lie down in bed at night and curl up to go to sleep, it all hits me again. Fear, pain, and the desperation of my child self come crashing out of nowhere, searing through my body like shrapnel. Much as I’d like to, I can’t really avoid the bombs. Even if I sit down on the couch for a few minutes of respite during a busy day it’s the same thing: BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! The memory bombs go off and all I want to do is run, to look for safe places to hide, to keep moving, ducking and dodging the incessant attacks, but I know it’s not productive, nor is it really possible.

So shame and guilt arose from my deeper self and came to teach me my next lessons. I confronted the supposed bad self, the self who thought she was at fault and to blame for what happened, and the self who felt so guilty for partaking. By the end of the second year I confronted just how attached I was to those elements of shame and guilt, for they defined me, who I had always been, showing me just how deeply embedded they were in my psyche and just how attached I, a little Catholic school girl, had been—and still was—to their bitter presence. Almost a year later, on June 2, 2003, as I prepared to finally release myself from their cloying attachment, gaining even deeper insight, I wrote the following:

Aware that I’ve just barely stayed in control, by force of will and old habit, I admit to myself that I don’t really want to be the old self anymore. I don’t want to “hold on” or “hang in there.” Physically, I’m exhausted and I’m fairly sure I’ll be unable to keep up this charade much longer. I’m wearing down.

“Try for stillness. Go for stillness,” I hear Jeanne saying.

I barely remember concluding last week that I do indeed need stillness—unhurried, unstressed, quiet living—and a break from this torture. I hoard my feelings, afraid that when they’re gone I won’t have anything left inside me and yet this is my torture as well. At this point, it still feels far better, and safer, to retain my stand, though the children in my dream (from last week’s blog) want me to be a feeling being. Their disappointment was clear as I passed them by and drove on toward the house of fear and emptiness, rather than greet them with equal joy. If I let go, I fear that all that keeps me connected to life will go too, that all my desperate attempts to align myself somewhere in this world will disappear. Maybe I don’t need to try so hard, as Chuck constantly tells me, but there’s a part of me that cannot abide the idea of not being in control, the thought alone sending me into a place of deep shame and anxiety. I know that such deep shame stems from my upbringing, for it was expected that I handle everything so expertly, without a show of emotion; coolly, without expressing needs or desires of any kind. Rather than be scolded, I found it far easier to be the unemotional being that I was so often reprimanded to be. I deduced that to want affection and love were shameful weaknesses to be avoided at all costs, though I harbored a secret desire for them. I was a child full of what I considered shameful thoughts, desiring simple human touch and affection. And yet I do not blame my child self for such basic human needs. She needs to know that it’s perfectly acceptable to want and need simple affection, to know that it’s allowed and necessary. Love is allowed. It is, isn’t it? An epiphany: Love is allowed! Wanting to be loved is allowed too!

The whole idea of needing and expressing love, tenderness, and affection was presented as something shameful: don’t even go there, don’t touch or be touched, it’s disgusting! This is what I was taught at home. Emotions are disgusting; expressing them is disgusting, letting anyone know you have emotions or feelings is strictly forbidden. No touching, no gentleness, no love was exchanged between parent and child, perhaps very rarely a pat on the head, maybe, if I was sick. No hugs, no kisses, no emotional support. Such an unemotional upbringing is wrong. To make a person feel so ashamed and so emotionally isolated is wrong. To deprive another of the most basic of human needs is wrong.

On top if it, I had to deal with my abuser, but I see where his abusive affections, as perverted as they were, tapped into that void created by my upbringing. Even though his type of affection was totally aberrant, I wouldn’t have known that as a child. I had nothing to compare it to. Perhaps I was drawn to him as much as he was drawn to me. I was trapped coming and going. I had no choice. I was a child living in a family completely devoid of human touch and emotions, the most basic of which were squelched at an early age. And then I walked into a family where they took their clothes off and touched each other all over the place, where feelings I never knew existed inside me were drawn out. And then I had to go back to my own family, which, with its cold, distant, and strict Victorian morals was as insidiously abusive and bizarre as my abuser’s family. And all I ever wanted was for someone to simply love me, just for who I was. I just want to be loved for me; that’s all. I see how easily a young child, starved for affection, could be confused and tricked by the attentions of a pedophile.

And so, as I followed where my psyche led me, pushed me, and often times forced me to go, I gained valuable insights. New ideas began to replace old ideas. Old themes that had defined me began to crumble. In that crumbling came new life. I gradually learned to take with me only what truly belonged to me, only what I truly believed about myself and life in general. I learned how to shush up the old voices and how to release my child self from her unemotional upbringing. I learned how to love that child self, as I taught her what I was learning. Having been apart for much of the recapitulation journey, we now joined forces more often. We now knew there was more to life and more to us that had to be discovered and lived.

By the end of the second year of recapitulation I was transforming rapidly. I had burned a lot of stuff that didn’t belong to me, and I was emerging from the ashes a new being. I was evolving in a very personally relevant way. Freed of what I felt I had to uphold—an old world that I no longer fit into—I was becoming the real me.

Thank you for reading. I send love and wishes for good journeying,

Chuck’s Place: Thoughts about Shame

The gift of the movie Shame is the clear and brutal exposition of a path deeply hidden yet commonly taken, the path of sexual addiction.

At its heart, sexual addiction shares with all addictions the expropriation of an instinct, in this case the sexual instinct. Other addictions, such as food and chemical dependency, are more associated with the hunger instinct. Addiction numbs, soothes and keeps at bay the underlying challenges of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, integration, and true intimacy.

The sexual instinct, fully wrestled with and realized in maturity, brings in its wake bonding, union, love and new life. In addiction the sexual instinct is choked into compulsive release, offering little more than deepening alienation under the ever-present shadow of death.

Choked in shame!

The storyline of the movie gives us little history, but enough to know that life lived must be kept at bay, frozen and unprocessed. Human contact—seemingly at its most intimate in the sexual act—must be completely devoid of connection and feeling. Sex is completely severed from even a hint of love. The slightest hint of feeling renders the phallus flaccid, plunged into yet deeper shame.

And with shame comes the opportunity to be with the pain, to find the tearful circuits to emotional release, to begin to melt the frozen islands of fragmented self. But, as with all paths, sometimes the shock and pain of knowing the truth, and feeling it fully, sends us back into addictive behaviors and release, the wheel of groundhog days. Though this repetitive cycle appears to offer little resolution, in actuality, it allows us to engage in a truly instinctual/spiritual process, as we return to accrue more energy in the form of frustration and discontent, energy that one day will help us awaken and realize that we no longer need to stay on that wheel. We are fully prepared then to step beyond the path of shame into deeper connection and fulfillment.

The movie leaves us hanging, in an unresolved land with some painful truths revealed and many still deeply hidden. It leaves us uncomfortable, confronted with accepting the fact that we all face addiction of some sort in our lives, as well as some sort of shame.

Though addiction comes in many guises, at its core it nonetheless asks us to face the same things within ourselves as the protagonist in Shame is asked to face within himself: the uncomfortable truth.

Can we enter that land of truth? What do we stay addicted to that keeps us from not only facing our deepest pain but from going deeper into where it is instinctually guiding us? Can we allow ourselves to accept that in facing our truths we really will step onto a path of change? Can we bear the tension of that journey of change that seeks to lead us to true union?

Jan: Self-portrait at age 18—still asked by spirit to face truths in the light of day

Lift the veil of shame and see what’s beneath it. The ultimate realization is that we’re all on the same path; we’re all beings on our way to dying. Choosing addictions equals choosing attachments. How long do we really need to hold onto them? How long do we need to keep at bay the real truths of who we are, the truths of our lives lived and the truth of our lives yet to be lived? Can we stay open to our fullest potential—fulfillment in a life we can’t hold onto anyway? Because we do have to die.

The real question is: How do we want to live?

And the real crux of sex and love is: Can we allow ourselves to fully open to love in a life that will one day end? Can we join the spirit of love and fully merge with another human being? Can we love someone who may leave us and someone who surely is going to die? If love is spirit and sex is matter—which is transitory—can we allow ourselves to drop all addictions and attachments, and all our shame too, and truly merge the two?

Full union of spirit and matter is letting love in. There is no shame in that.

Chuck, with love and thanks for some expert editing by Jan.