The Forgiveness Chronicles - Part II: For What It Is Worth
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
The Forgiveness Chronicles, Continued (Disclaimer and Part I)
Part II: For What It Is Worth
As he was dropping his shorts, he put his hand firmly on my chest, pushing me against the wall. I felt the rough boards through my tank top, scraping at the backs of my shoulders. He turned to the side and peed on the moldering straw while he screwed his hand deeper into my breastplate, shoving me down. I was rendered speechless with shock. My knees buckled. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening, nothing made sense. Something felt terribly wrong, but I didn’t know why. Before I could recover, he was shoving it in my face. I had never seen one before. In fact, it had scarcely occurred to me that his parts might look different than mine. And he had just peed! Gross! I wanted nothing to do with that thing the pee had come from. As my shoulder scraped against the dirty floor and I was clamping my mouth shut in protest, he began yelling at me. He had never yelled at me before. We had always just been playmates…me, him, and his two little sisters.
I could feel rage radiating from him. I shriveled inside. My mind struggled to figure out what was happening. Why was he mad at me? What had I done? Where was this coming from?
“No teeth, you filthy – “
The boy’s growl was cut short.
In front of me, a large shadow appeared in the doorway. It was his father. A wave of terror ran through me like a bolt of lightning. My heart plummeted and then leapt in my chest, the shock of it sending waves of panic through my body.
That is the last thing I remember.
The next thing I recall is waking up alone on the floor of the old shed. The door was closed. I was sore. I had scratches all over my legs and hands. One hand had a palmful of splinters. My bottom hurt. Something felt…wrong. Very wrong. Sticky sweat covered my body. I was exhausted. My muscles were shaky and hurt. I wanted to throw up, but nothing came. Panic coursed through my veins; I was terrified of going home, yet it was the only place I knew to go and wanted to be. I was terrified I had done something very bad, that it had been horrible and unforgivable, and that I would be in big trouble. No one could ever know. No one could ever find out. Because if they did, they wouldn’t love me anymore.
I didn’t remember any of those incidents from childhood until I went through puberty, at the ripe old age of 17. When that portal opened, the memories – at least significant pieces of them – began to flood back into my consciousness. At one point, the images were relentless. I would have nightmares about them, as though snippets of scenes were on a loop and would just play over and over and over again, mercilessly. I would open my eyes to make the images stop, but the second I closed my eyes, they were back, picking up right where they had left off. I remember mentioning it to my Mom one morning on the way to school after swim practice.
“Mom, I am having some really bad memories from childhood,” I began timidly.
“Like what?” she asked. I could sense trepidation in her voice.
“You know the people we lived across the street from in Independence?”
“Yes,” she said, keeping her eyes on the road. “The one that died?”
“Yes,” I said.
He had died not long after we had moved. I remember Mom getting the call from our old neighbor. The complex emotions that had run through me at the time had not made sense to me then; I hadn’t remembered yet.
“He and his son did terrible things to me when I was seven. They molested me, Mom. I don’t know why, but I am starting to remember and have nightmares and I am not really sure what to do.”
She didn’t say anything for a while. We drove past rolling hills speckled with horse farms, soybean fields, and large suburban yards. She never took her eyes off the road.
“It’s a good thing you never remembered any of this as a child,” she said, “because your father would have wound up in prison and me, you, and your sister would not have had a very good life.”
I looked at her in the early morning sun.
She kept her hands on the wheel and stared at the road.
That was the end of the conversation.
It would take me decades to process the fullness of that tiny moment in time. No one offered counseling. No one offered consolation. I was under the distinct impression that the only choice I had was to bury it and send those memories back to the hidden depths they had emerged from. I couldn’t figure out how to do that. I tried mightily to forget. Everything failed, so I sought out anesthesia. Listening to music at high volumes helped. The angst of the Grunge movement had always resonated with me, and now it made sense why. I wished I could scream as they could scream, but my voice wound up strangled in my throat. The music echoed the turmoil I felt within myself, the angst at having to navigate a world I saw as hostile and cruel. I resorted to writing very dark essays and poems instead of singing. They were poems and essays that no one ever read but me. One poem was lauded by an English teacher, but my Mom wasn’t impressed.
“It’s really dark,” she had said dismissively. Her approval is all I ever wanted, so I never let anyone read my poetry ever again. If she didn’t like it, then it must not be as good as the teacher had thought.
We had moved from that terrible neighborhood in Independence two years after the abuse had occurred. I was excited to move. By then, I had completely forgotten what had happened to me. The memory blackout had occurred within a few weeks of the events. I am not sure how that had happened. Even to this day, I wonder how so many of the things I experienced could result in voids of blackness in my memory banks. Even if I couldn’t see those memories, I could still feel them, though the feelings weren’t tied to anything concrete at the time. Moving was just such a moment. I was elated, relieved, and anxious to move, but I wasn’t sure why. I had very close friends in school I was worried about leaving.
The move brought new trauma, but this time, it was a different flavor. It is hard relocating just a few years before entering middle school. By then, the cliques had already been formed; these kids had history, and I was the awkward newcomer whose mother dressed her up in corduroy pants and a sweater vest – Mom thought she was helping me make a good first impression with what she called “classics” when everyone else was firmly entrenched in Keds, acid washed jeans, and Mossimo T-shirts.
Throughout middle school and high school, I was bullied relentlessly by a girl in my neighborhood, who was something of a class clown. I secretly admired her quick wittedness, her ability to fire back a scathing, snarky comeback at the snap of a finger, never once missing a beat. Throughout those years, I felt the seven-year-old girl, shrunken and subjugated, deep inside me. The constant taunting on the school bus to and from school every day only served as fertilizer for the shame that had been planted within me. It caused me to rebel, though I didn’t really have any clear understanding of what I was rebelling against. It just bubbled up inside of me, undefined, unexplored, and perpetuated a cycle within me of disempowerment, self-neglect, denigration, and deprivation. The first time I was abused as a child, even without the visual memories, a seed was planted deep within me: one of a hybrid between shame and self-loathing.
It is so difficult to trudge through these swamps, to dredge up the past, and examine it through the microscope of time. When this first came up at age 17, I slammed the door shut, or at least I tried, with drugs. When it came up again in my twenties, by then, I knew I couldn’t slam the door shut because my sobriety was fledgling, so I redirected my efforts towards studying and practicing law. I had actually wanted to become a psychologist, exploring the niche of shamanic healing techniques. I was discouraged to venture down this route by my Mom; she didn’t believe in “shrinks.” I chose law instead. It wasn’t a completely palatable choice for her, either (most people don’t like lawyers until they need one), but I figured if I could get a doctorate degree and become a successful lawyer, no one would know how dirty, small, and unlovable I was. I could fit in, exceed everyone’s expectations, and no one would know all the terrible secrets I held locked inside. Perhaps then, I could reclaim some power and would become worthy.
It would not be until much later that I figured out the connection between power and worth. I felt powerlessness deep within myself. The lack of power within was a direct link to my sense of worthlessness. But even when I attained power as a female litigator, my sense of self worth didn’t improve; it remained static. Why? Because the power I experienced as a lawyer wasn’t true power. True power comes from within. It comes from remembering the origins of our Spirit and the plan our soul has created for us in this lifetime.
To everyone on the outside looking in, I had an ideal life. I married my soulmate. I had a successful solo practice, where I was liked and respected by my peers and my clients. We had a healthy, intelligent daughter with a kind and loving heart. We lived on a nice piece of property in a modest home in the burbs. It was the quintessential, so-called American Dream…except that with every success, the trauma inside me threatened to bubble to the surface and snatch it all away. At least, that’s what it felt like. Success almost felt like a curse, but looking back, that was because it had been built atop a flawed foundation. There was no self-love, self-worth, and true power underlying any of it. The more I achieved outside of myself, the more hollow I felt within myself.
Get that light off of me! I don’t want to be in this spotlight! I remembered lamenting to myself. Don’t look too closely. You will see cracks in the armor. It’s the cracks, the flaws, that haunted me.
My good friend called it “Imposter Syndrome.” Apparently, a lot of successful women with careers have it. It seems we pick up that programming from society, which touts women as less capable than men in the workplace through subtle things, like entertainment, and more blatant things, like unequal pay. It is even worse for those of us with buried trauma. There were times I resented being a woman. My femininity was a curse I chose to carry around…until I got pregnant and birthed my daughter.
That was the only time I can recall where I handled the trauma in the most positive and constructive way possible. The level of self-care I engaged in was something I had never indulged in before. I meditated. I ate extremely clean. I did yoga and breathing exercises. I took naps, worked part time, slathered my skin with oils, and wore nothing but comfy clothes. Something inside of me – under the gentle influence of my best friend and my midwife – was convinced that if I focused on showering the baby with love, that she would somehow be spared some of the trauma I carried. Perhaps I could untie the knot. Maybe, like a genetic disease, I wouldn’t pass it along. In this sense, I never thought of it as self-care; it was prenatal care. It was focused on the baby. I was just the lucky bystander who benefitted from all the fruit falling off the wagon.
After my daughter was born, slowly but surely, work took over and I replaced one anesthetic for another. It was unbearable at times for me to watch my daughter in all her innocence, prattle and play on the floor in front of me as I typed motions. Had I stopped to analyze what I was feeling and why, instead of pushing blindly through the work, convincing myself it was more important than the beautiful little gift sitting right in front of me, I would have realized it was my own longing for the innocence I never got to fully realize and enjoy. There was a painful nostalgia for something that barely existed, that had slipped through my fingers before my heart had felt it ready. I avoided the feelings by dedicating my time to work. Without consciously recognizing what was happening, I was putting up walls so thick and so high, I was closing myself off from the very things that would eventually become the ultimate catalyst of my own healing: love, joy, innocence, pleasure, happiness. Something inside of me had told me, from a very young age, that it was wrong to want these things and that I didn’t deserve them. It wasn’t until my Mom’s death and then the heart attacks that I began to really examine these beliefs and where they came from.
For me, sexual trauma at a young age seeded the belief that the things most people associate with pleasure – rock and roll, dancing, sex, intimate acts, drugs, alcohol – are somehow bad, hedonistic things, rebellious things on the fringes of danger. The image and philosophy was perverted and distorted into something forbidden, relegated to categories of exploitation and abuse. Their experience is not associated with joy, pleasure, or happiness, but with shame when the feelings of joy, pleasure, and happiness occur. Memories are not just what we see, smell, hear, or taste. It is what we feel, and perhaps more importantly, what we feel inside of ourselves.
My self-worth had been annihilated in one moment at age seven. I would spend the following 33 years of my life looking outside myself to find it. It wasn’t until I met with a very gifted medical medium in the winter months of 2020 that I realized my error. We were chatting on the phone one afternoon. He asked me if I felt worthy. I had no idea what he was talking about. Worthy? I almost balked. And then I hesitated. What did that mean, to be worthy?
For the longest time, I had been uncomfortable telling people my hourly rate. I knew what I was expected to charge by the hour (at least, I figured it out when another female lawyer pulled me aside and told me bluntly that I needed to raise my rates), I knew that I was good at my job, and I knew that I was passing muster by society’s standards as a mother. But never once, in my entire life, had I ever given a single moment of consideration to my own worth independent of any external yardsticks.
I tried to deconstruct everything I knew about worth. For a while, it was exhausting. Every time I dropped into meditation to untangle these webs of illusion society and I had woven together to explain away my life, I would find that I had made so many connections I never consciously considered; I had just adopted them. Inexplicably, they were just there. I didn’t know where they had come from, I wasn’t sure I agreed with them, and the more I got into really dissecting it, I came to the sinking realization that many of them didn’t need to be there. Every meditation became a session where one more piece of the web would get trimmed away. The meditation sessions would go something like this:
My Intuition: Okay, let’s look at this list you created with your “Five Year Plan”. It says here
that by 2022, you expect yourself to gross $X, that you will have published X articles, and that you will have contributed $X to your retirement account. Where did those numbers come from?
I realized, rather bleakly, that I was deposing myself in these sessions. And, like the unconscious corporate rep who is trotted out to tow the company line under such interrogations, my only response to these questions was:
Me: Gee, I don’t know where those numbers came from. Maybe Judy in accounting?
There was no Judy in accounting. There had been Suze Orman. There had been Oprah. There had been all these powerful, successful women that surrounded me in real life and in culture who seemed to have their shit together who knew the right targets and goals to chase. I had unconsciously taken pieces from everywhere I had been, every successful woman I had met and admired, from all the articles I had read over the last fifteen years, and like a collage, I had snipped pieces from here and from there and had haphazardly thrown together a collage and deemed it a rock solid one, five, and ten year plan. But was it my plan? Hardly.
My Intuition: Does this plan bring you joy?
Me: Honestly, no.
My Intuition: Does this plan bring you fulfillment, happiness, and worth?
Me: I am good at seeing obstacles, developing plans to overcome them, and then executing the plan to conquer them. Does it give me a sense of accomplishment? Sure, I can then say I accomplished something. But does it make me happy, bring me joy, and fulfill a deep purpose? No. I can’t honestly say that it does.
My Intuition: Then sever that tie.
How could I cut that cord? My entire world as I knew it was attached to that cord. What would happen if it were gone? Every time I went into my self-worth meditations, new cords were cut, and with each snip, illusions began to fall away. Certainties evaporated. Sometimes I felt immense grief, guilt, or longing…I would try and justify not cutting the cord by saying to myself, “but what about _____________???” (Insert a person, situation, or belief in the blank). At the end of the day, it was about choice. Do we choose to honor our most authentic self, or do we give up our sovereignty to the control other’s expectations and beliefs hold over us, like a spell?
Therein lies the crux of real healing. Once I began to untangle the web and disconnect the old programming and beliefs that were not authentic to who I was at my core, I was breaking a web of spells I had been living under. When I looked around after several months of doing this, I saw tattered scraps of my former life blowing in the wind and a lot of really blank, empty spaces. As a painter, it reminded me of a blank canvas; in some ways, it was intimidating. In other ways, it was exciting to have a fresh start, to have a completely blank slate upon which to create and build something new.
Something held me back from picking up the brush and getting straight to work this time, though. I still had yet to tackle the flawed foundation. I still needed to dive deeper to sort out my value, my worth. I knew I was on the right path, because I began to feel something. Later, I would come to recognize it as the first inklings of liberation from a lifetime of suffering.