A Wounded Heart

21 Mar

Most days I’m surrounded by a net of safety from the crippling aftermath of sexual abuse that leveled my daily life. I can enjoy reading a book or laughing at a joke or playing with my grand kids. The past seems miles away as if it drifted out to sea. Then, without warning, I’m tossed like a lobster into a boiling pot of steaming water–screaming.

Those moments aren’t predictable. They don’t come packaged as an instinct or premonition like the afternoon I finally put a documentary, Searching for Angela Fisher, in the DVD player.

The documentary was given to me by the Outreach Coordinator for the Colorado Coalition on Sexual Assault. Angela Fisher, an incest survivor, contacted all the woman in the US who shared her name, then traveled by RV around the country to meet them and, if given permission, record their stories. Angela was curious whether violence and sexual assault of women in this country was a prevalent as the statistics suggested. The documentary’s additional agenda included an element of personal healing for Angela through the recounting of the personal stories of these women.

When I got home, I placed the documentary next to the DVD player. Movies provide an escape for me; so I watch movies frequently. Each time I put a movie in the player, the face of Angela Fisher on the cover of the DVD caught my eye, reminding me it was waiting. Months passed. If my avoidance was intentional, I can’t say. Maybe other movies held more appeal. One afternoon, my boredom required a diversion. I stood in front of the TV, strong and confident, opened the cover of the documentary and put it in the DVD player.

Angela’s story and the accounts of the women who had been victims of domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse or incest was gripping and heartbreaking. Although I was deeply moved, nothing threatened to rip the scabs off my wounded heart; nothing evoked unbearable pain; nothing threw me headfirst into the old memories. At some point in the documentary, Angela revealed her intention to confront her father about the sexual abuse.

When she finally arrived at his doorstep, daughter and father sat on the concrete steps of his house, his face obscured by a grey filmy mesh, while she confronted him about the incest. Her father began his diatribe of denial–including statements referring to his Christianity; how sexual abuse was a sin in the church; sexual abuse was disgusting; he wouldn’t do such a thing. When she countered with her clear memories of the abuse, her father denied her reality, a response all too familiar, by saying her memories were flawed, maybe she had repeated the story so many times that she believed it when it wasn’t true. He continued to repeat that he would never do such a thing. When she asked him why she could remember specifics about his abuse, he kept repeating the memory flaw and that he couldn’t explain it but that he wouldn’t do such a disgusting thing to his daughter. He attempted to make her believe she was crazy–it disturbed me. A therapist once described the pathology of “crazy making.” I’ve never forgotten that moment for it captapuled me into a clarity of what had been done to me many times over by abusive people in my life including my parents. It’s insidious but clever–turning the tables on you by making you think you’re crazy. I became agitated. Then it started.

Fresh memories of my son’s crazing-making behavior, manipulation and denial swept over me like an avalanche–smothering me. My throat constricted. My face contorted; my chest tightened; tears accumulated in the corners of my eyes until, like an over-filled tea-cup, they spilled down my face. Sobs erupted from a wounded cavern that suddenly opened. I couldn’t stop them. I was startled at my response. Where did the tears come from? I stared at Angela’s father as he continued his attempt to persuade her she was crazy. That sexual abuse never happened. Even though his face was obscured, each word struck me like a hammer. My uncontrolled sobbing continued–my body hurt, my mind hurt, my memories hurt.

When the documentary ended, I was emotionally exhausted. The day suddenly tipped over–darkness replaced light; sadness replaced joy. I scanned my surroundings. What was I suppose to do with the pressing pain in my core? Who could I call for support? No one. Heartbreaking loneliness enveloped me. I’d opened Pandora’s box releasing the gremlins. I wanted desperately to shove them back in the box and lock them up again. A heavy weight anchored me to the couch. Time passed. Finally, the weight was too heavy to endure so I forced myself to get up. I looked around for something to do–the dishes.

What is different about an unexpected reminder of my wounds, the effect doesn’t last as long or strike with the same intensity. Within hours or a few days, the feelings disperse rather than holding me hostage for weeks, months or years. I suppose it is a gift that the pain fades and I only have to relive it briefly.

Will it ever end? No. I use to think it would; but now I know it never will. Reminders will always trigger gut-wrenching sadness, grief and, with it, tears. Although it scares me, I am confident knowing it will pass. I suppose that’s as much as I can hope for. For now, that’s as good as it gets.

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