Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Freeing my Voice.....

I wrote this between 5:20 -6:30am, today, August 30, 2010. It is, in a way, my personal Declaration of Independence, and the best description I have found for the changes I'm undergoing and why they are so important.....I don't know if it will have any value to anyone besides me, but I needed to write it, and I need now to share it.


My life is my own - I claim the right to explore it, and to do so in any medium and for any audience I choose. I strive to only write my own truth. If that truth involves ugliness, I will not shy away from it, because doing so in the past was a type of Stockholm Syndrome. In order to pretend that there was no ugliness, that those I loved most in the world were not (and are not, even now) trustworthy, I pretended that I was complicit in their ugliness, that they did the best they could, that it wasn't abuse because they felt it wasn't as bad as what was done to them.

And, in the process of exonerating my abusers of their crimes, I perpetrated crimes of my own upon those who love me most, and a sad circle of ugliness was begun anew.

My honesty, in my writing and in the way I live my life, is the stick I wield - not to strike out, but to jam into the spokes of that spinning wheel of volatility, to stop it from running over me, and those who are learning to trust me again.

In order to be worthy of that trust, I have had to go deep within my soul, my history, and face a little girl who was often trapped and frightened by a surrounding anger so huge she was certain it would one day devour her whole. I had to face this little girl, who is me, and embrace her, until the tension in her tiny body started to melt, and her sobs, cries, and wails of anguish and pain she has held in so long. I had to remember with her all the moments of ugliness - a thrown hammer hitting her tailbone as she scrambled to escape; the shame of being forced to wear five pairs of soiled underwear to school, as punishment for having failed to put them in the laundry; the constant insulting of her utter left-handedness and passion for Star Trek; the sudden, neck-snapping jolt of a hard slap across the face for saying something unintentionally disrespectful; being dragged out of bed and literally stomped on because, at that moment, she preferred her own thoughts to conversation with her sister; the back of a hot spoon pressed into the back of her hand by a mother who was "just playing" no matter how many times she protested that it hurt; the waking up to find herself standing in the middle of her bedroom floor with both parents screaming at her, and no idea how she got there or why she was in trouble (often, it was a messy bedroom, or the fact that she had been sucking her finger yet again, or crying out in the depths of a nightmare). There are hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of moments that rise to that little girl's surface, and must be heard, and expressed, because, at the time, she as not allowed to express them.

I speak for her, now, because she didn't have the freedom to speak for herself, or even to be fully herself, then. I hold her and tell her that finally, at long, long last, she has that freedom. I have that freedom, and that there is nothing - no, nothing; not the anger of my abusers, not their judgment; not even their continuing attempts to make me cower, small and terrified once more, that can take my right to my own voice, ever again.

I have freed the little girl within to live again and it is as if I return to that smaller body and again see, hear, feel, smell, taste, and think as she did - as I did, back then.

I see again the faces of my abusers, as I saw them then- twisted with rage and delight as the ugliness spews out of them. I know, too, that it is the ugliness of what was done to them, the long-festering , gaping wounds leaching poisons into their souls, until it erupts out of them like pus from a lanced abscess......

I have come to know the rage of ugliness within me, festering and leaching poisons into my own soul, the perverse delight of being the one inflicting the ugliness, the one feeling the heady power of getting even - and I have come to know, too, that it's impossible to get even with those who caused me harm by harming yet another innocent.

And so, I try to speak my truth with compassion for the fact that those whom I loved, and who harmed me, were also harmed by those they loved. I am not angry with them anymore, and I will no longer allow their poison to infect me, because I will not pass any more of it along to those who love me.

These tormentors did not do the best they knew how to do, any more than I did when when I poisoned my loved ones with my inner ugliness. They, and I, did exactly as well as we each chose to do, in each moment. They, and I, might have chosen more gentleness, but, in those moments, there was power in being the tormentor. Getting the payoff was so easy - a simple matter of ridicule and force, flooding the tormentor with a pleasure so palpable it was terrifying to my younger self, and more terrifying still when it flooded me, and overflowed caustically onto my children.

I've felt that pleasure, too, and it was ridiculously easy, in moments of frustrated fury, to strike out and force my will upon those most defenseless against it. To me, that warped delight, tangled in violent disregard for the selfness of the other, is the embodiment of the phrase, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

When damaged souls pair up and produce children, it is inevitable that the children will in turn become damaged souls -

Unless those parents can face the child they were without numbing themselves to the pain they endured, without minimizing or excusing it, without accepting the blame their tormentors meted out - "I wouldn't have to do this if you -"

No. It isn't ever about what the victim did or did not do. That is merely the excuse, the permission, the trigger. It releases the projectile force and fury that has nothing at all to do with the victim, and everything to do with those who victimized the one who is now victimizing another.

Two of those who perpetrated these acts on me are still victims. They've claimed that status in life, and they guard it fiercely. No matter what any other has endured, they will have it worse. Someone or something is always keeping them from being happy.

My child died, and my mother's reaction, every time I mentioned the searing, jagged pain of his loss, would snap, "Well, I lost a grandson." I knew that, and hurt for her - but I needed to express my sorrow at having my baby boy yanked from the safe shelter of my body, at never hearing his voice, at never feeling him suckle or melt deliciously into me, of not getting to know him longer than the 9 months and 12 days between his conception and his death.

I don't talk about him with her anymore, because I don't want to compete to be heard, and there are others who will let me say what I need to, when I need to, with no competition.

The sister who dragged me from my bed, and stomped on my body so forcefully I saw stars, then hissed, " Be quiet, or we'll get in trouble for being out of bed," was divorced recently. Nearly every conversation we've had since has focused on how difficult her life is, that she is with her two young sons 24/7 , the only one caring for her home, and living a very stressful life as a single mother. But her children go to school and spend time with a father who shares custody and financial responsibility; she has sitters and a housekeeper and ample support from her family and her ex-husband's; her settlement is sufficient that she needn't work; her home is paid for. There are many single parents with absent or deceased partners, who have no home and no support; who work long hours and perhaps go hungry so that their children might eat, who live in areas where they might fear constantly for the safety of their family. But these are nothing to what my sister suffers as a victim.

I don't talk to her about much of anything, anymore. There is no logic in her statements, and there is a core of nastiness to her that I tend to avoid in other people. There are many people whose company I enjoy, and she is not one of them.

Of her boys, my sister says what I once said, what our own mother said, when we were young. "They're lucky they don't have it as bad as I did." Perhaps, but she grew up in a home with two parents who love each other, and her boys will not.

Victims make their pain always more than everyone else's, but I believe no one can know another's pain, or measure the depth and strength of its impact. When we excuse the pain we cause others by explaining that we ourselves had it a lot worse we still know that hat we are doing is wrong. When we act as though our pain is more painful than someone else's, we deny their right to it.

That is why there is such a taboo about honestly calling attention to the abuse, for refusing to stay silent and perpetuate the cycle of violence.

When I began to realize how deeply I had been damaged in my own childhood, when I began to understand how I was doing the same thing to Jeremiah and Annalise, and excusing it in the same way, I began to change. I realized that I had to face the child I was; frightened, confused, lonely, and deeply wounded, she still lived within me, begging me for her voice.

As I began to give it to her, and to give Miah and Lise the right to their own voices, as well, I began to be perceived as a threat to certain members of my family who prefer the comfort and power of the status quo. To two of my three siblings, I am Public Enemy #1, and their reactions to even my most innocent expressions of my true voice have been met with public explosions of hostile ugliness that, at first, left me in stunned shock at the virulence of their apparent hatred for me and every aspect of my life. There were lies, assumptions, accusations, and vitriol, as every real, imagined, and invented slight was laid out for all the world to see.

It was more abuse, another attempt to dominate with the same brutal intensity that our parents inflicted on upon us all, in childhood.

I didn't respond in kind, as I would have not so long ago. For many hours (this joint attack lasted for a day and a half), I as unaware of it, living an everyday life with my family. Then, once I saw all that had been written, I made, for the first time, a conscious decision to not be pulled in, to refuse to accept treatment from family members that I wouldn't accept from anybody else.

I realized fully how deeply they had been poisoned, and that it is futile to try to keep the peace with anyone who is not peaceable.

And I saw , too, just how deeply I myself had been poisoned, how I had always before allowed others to treat me this way, because I had believed, as intended, that I somehow deserved it.

And I knew, beyond all doubt, that this is a cycle I cannot and will not perpetuate. The thought of Jeremiah and Annalise growing up with so much ugliness within,them that they could perceive nothing else sickens me. To think they might twist the innocent words of another, perceive insult and attack where none was given, and hold the other accountable for the bloated and deformed result, is unbearable. That they would then lash out themselves with poison fangs, with the deliberate intent to cause as much pain as possible, makes me want to cry and vomit, all at once.

No. My children deserve better. The world deserves better. I won't be part of that cycle, and I sure as hell won't subject Jeremiah and Annalise to it any more than I already have.

And so I give my little girl within her voice, and the me I am now hers, and all the past and future selves I have been and will be, theirs. I don't do it to hurt, shame, or blame anyone . I do it to make peace with all I have experienced, and I do it so that my children may have their voices, right now, and grow strong and sure in using them, and in knowing their power to hurt or to heal.

I do it for the grandchildren I may have one day, so that they get the chance to grow up strong and whole, without the poison-oozing soul wounds I bear, and which I have already inflicted upon my children, and know I can never fully repair....

I do it for all those whose lives mine and my children's will touch, because peace and love and acceptance spread outward in ripples, just like violence and hate and rejection do, and because both are carried deep in the soul - and because one is wonderful while the other is terrible.

And I do it for the world, because those who have known peace within themselves, even for a few moments, will not willingly inflict harm on another. Enough peaceful souls, and I believe a tipping point will be reached where, rather than wage wars, we turn all our resources to feeding the hungry, comforting the wounded, and helping each other to find fulfillment.

And I do it for those, including my parents and siblings, who may have been both tormented and tormentor, and who might someday choose to attempt to live differently. I do it for their children, too, and for all the lives those lives will touch....

Dona noblis pacem - give us peace.


Unknown said...

There's that image of poison and infection—it's coming up a lot lately for me, and here it is again, from you. :-) When adults treat children poorly, they infect them with the poison of their own self-loathing. It is a most loathsome act, which was done to me as a child, it was done to you, and it was done to almost all of us. The cycle repeats, unless we decide to consciously stop it—right here, right now. Self love. Child love. I'm with you in this fight. ~Cheryl

Jenna said...

You are amazing. The strength of your voice and the love and joy you share with your children are an inspiration. :)

Tracy said...

I'm so sorry for what you had to endure as a child, Shannon - but I commend you for standing up for yourself and your children now and refusing to allow the toxicity and abuse to continue. {{hugs}}

Shan Jeniah Burton said...

Tracy - I'm not, because living through it made me who I am. I was always determined, although I didn't have words for it, to get through as unscathed as possible. I found ways to be who I was - reading, writing, drawing, long walks, being up in the wee hours when everyone else was asleep and there was - finally! - a few hours for quiet, peaceful reflection and creativity.....

Because I lived it, and because I began by inflicting it, I can see it and name it and describe it. Because I have released that old shame of "deserving" it, I can be honest about the details. Because I cad do those things, maybe some one will recognize themselves here, and begin a healing journey - maybe even BEFORE they have damaged children of their own.

I can't be sorry about that! =)

Jenna - thank you. I am so far from perfect, and only now letting go of trying to be. Such a fresh breath of life to just do my honest best, in each moment, with compassion not only for Miah and Lise, but also for the woman I am and the child I was.....but it is so, so much better than it was, and we all feel refreshed and alive in a whole new way! =)

Cheryl - Lots of venomous snakes in Lise's life just now - so the image was close to mind.

But I'd rather think of it as a huge hug for the world, rather than a fight! =)

Annette said...

Bless your courage, Shannon! ♥

Unknown said...

I could have written this very post. Thank you for putting this out there to remind us all of how important it is to be peaceful to all around us.