Anger and Shame

The shame that I felt over the things I did, the things that were done to me, morphed into anger. But not anger at my father, or even my mother. There was anger at Them. But mostly, it turned into anger against me. There was this violent feeling that I was desperate to alleviate. I felt darker than a black hole.
While I was there, I expressed that rage by forcing myself to approach them. I purposely encouraged sexual activity as a preemptive move. But, I think, that meant that there were times there was sexual activity when there might not have been, if I hadn’t teased, touched, and generally initiated it.
My therapist insists there is no way I child can be held responsible. And I understand that. The fact that I physically touched them. That I teased and aroused them should not have mattered. Even if I did all that, they should not have responded. Most adults would have pushed me away. Put up limits.
Except that I knew they would respond. They started it. They showed me their buttons. Fairly demanded that I push them.
It was what my father wanted me to do. No question. He taught me the skills I used to seduce them. He taught that sex was this wonderful, wholesome thing. For children and adults. For every- and any-one.
There was no question in that little Me’s mind. I was the problem. So, I kept trying and trying. Not only to be safe. Not only preemptively. I wanted—I needed—to master this. Why couldn’t I be the person he wanted me to be? What was wrong with me that these things made me want to die. Made me want to punish myself. Made me run away into that swirling colored spot way deep in my mind.
There was anger. And fear. Focused on my father. I would never have admitted it. Would ever even had dared think it.
I didn’t let myself remember the violence from when I was very small. But whether it was the anger in him or the anger in me, every so often that fear reared its head.
One day, in Shirley, my father decided we were going on a family outing. For reasons lost to the vagaries of time I did not want to go. At some point I ended up under his desk. He was yelling, I was screaming.
He stood there in the doorway, sternly demanding that I put on my shoes and get in the car. Under the desk, I sat holding my breath. I started to feel lightheaded, and no less angry, or scared. To defy my father meant defying his perfection. A belief I had to believe.
I sucked in a deep lungful of air and scooted out from under the desk. Before he could move or react, I was out the door and down the stairs. I ran out the front door. The tiny rocks biting at my feet. I could hear him behind me. My heart was throbbing in my ears. I reached the barn. And impromptu haven. I found myself up in the hayloft, looking down from the open doorway to the gravel filled area below.
Then I heard him coming. Up the ladder. For the briefest of moments, I hated him. Within that moment I felt my full fear of him, as well. The certain knowledge that I was not safe. I simply did not know what he would do should he catch me. I was unwilling to capitulate. So, I stood in that doorway, surrounded by hay bits. I held onto the side with one hand. My screaming had turned into growls of rage. Where there words that he could decipher? I don’t know.
I do know he backed down. He was cooing calm words that I was in no frame of mind to decipher. Finally, he left me alone there. Without further conversation, demand, or request, he packed everyone up and drove off.
How long did I stay there? How long were my mind and body numb? How long did I stay abandoned there?
I know, eventually, I came down. The house was empty and quiet. I knew I had won, but I felt no elation. I felt certain there would be a price to pay.
The cold yet burning knot inside me turned it all on myself. I had been wrong. I had betrayed him. If I were just a better kid, it would not have happened. What if he didn’t love me anymore?
I had exposed a moment of impotence. What would happen if it caused someone else to deny, or defy him? And, tiniest of all, what if he never came back?
Though I didn’t remember it then, there was a reason for a fear so profound I would jump put a hay loft to avoid him. When I was quite small there was a day when I went to my daddy’s den to say good night. I’m sure I bounced in there in some cute little night dress. When I opened the door there was something wrong.
He didn’t smile and hug me. Instead, he seemed to growl. When I moved, said something, he turned. Another tentative step and he stood up. Some tiny voice in my tiny head yelled run. So, I did. Towards my mother. She grabbed me and threw me into my room, demanding I stay put as she slammed the door.
I was confused. I was scared. I could hear my daddy screaming. My mother’s voice softer, cajoling. I could hear things breaking. Finally, there was a dull thump. Then, nothing. I didn’t dare move. I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. How could I have understood about drug use and violence. I couldn’t.
I don’t know how the story ends. It is simply a little vignette floating around free. I know the thump was my mother’s head sitting the hearth. Other than a confirmation that it happened; I have nothing to connect it to.
Does that violence explain the fear I felt that day in the barn? Is that little girl’s belief it was her fault what caused the shame I felt that day?
In both there is a sense of betrayal. Of causing my father to do something bad. That ever-growing shame. I was, simply, wrong.

Taken part 2

First, there was food. Or rather the lack of food. As I had mentioned, my father expected us to follow a macrobiotic diet.  Brown rice, vegetables.  Plus, admonitions to eat your drinks and drink your food. One hundred chews of each bite. No liquids at meals or for a time afterward.

And fasts.  My father was a huge proponent of fasting.  Nothing but water, sometimes for multiple days.

This is one time I actually got lucky.  When I was seven my father had run out of juice in the house.  He told me to drink water, instead. I got rebellious and stubborn. I didn’t drink.  For 2 or 3 days. Finally, he became concerned I would get dangerously dehydrated.  So, he took me to the local 7-11 and got me an enormous slushie.

For that day forward, I would not drink water, no matter what.  Therefore, my father left grape juice for me to use instead, during fasts.  That juice tasted more wonderful than anything you can imagine.

It is hard to know, in some cases, whether They were too busy getting high to think about us, or whether they were simply sadistic. There would be separate food for my sister and me.  Rancid brown rice. Over ripe fruit. Rotting vegetables. Anything. I think, that they felt they could get away with.

When there was simply no food, I would scoop snow from outside and pour maple syrup over it, telling my sister and Moses (the other child) that it was ice cream.  Other times we would eat frozen orange juice concentrate out of the container. It was sticky, and very sweet.  We ate it with a spoon, on the sly.  My heart raced every time.  I didn’t know what would happen if they caught us.   I knew, however, that it would be something awful.

This alone was enough to give me serious food issues. My father added to the confusion by bringing food, especially Chinese take-out, home when he had been gone. He told me to eat my desert first because life is to be savored.  So, I would eat and eat.  Perhaps trying to store it up in my stomach for the inevitable drought to come.

He was my savior.  That food was a tangible expression of love.  I never allowed myself to think that all the deprivation was on his command.

Perhaps it seems strange that I did not question all of this.  Why I didn’t try to get help.  Why I didn’t tell someone. 
We were completely isolated.  We didn’t go to school.  We didn’t see people of any kind, other than Them and, sometimes, families having a baby.  It may as well have been a cult.

Next, were things that violated my mind and my body.

My father taught me to do guided relaxation, tensing and releasing each muscle group in succession.  He also coached me to Astral project.  To imagine myself somewhere far away.  To leave my body and fly to there.  He would have me sit in one position, either cross-legged or on my knees. To would coach me to go within.  To ignore the discomfort.  I would find a place filled with lights within me and float along with them.

That, along with the lessons on how to do sex acts, certainly served me well.  I spent most of my life blaming myself for the levels of depravity to which They sunk.  I was sure my father knew nothing.  I didn’t even wonder if it was a coincidence that they demanded or required skills he had created.

Still, it seemed he was gone more than he was there.  When he was gone it was a whole different world.  They loved to get high, drink, take drugs, and experiment with all things sexual. Between parties and overly sexual activities they enjoyed small tortures.  A soapy hot enema. Or, sometimes, as a douche. They would scream and hit. Knowing we would never tell.

At the parties I would bring a joint around the room or go fetch drinks.  They thought it was funny to blow smoke in my face.  I would try to hold my breath.  That didn’t go over very well.  Once, one of the women got tired of me holding my breath.  She forced me onto the bed and spread my legs.  She ran her tongue over what she found; then blew smoke into me.  “one hole is good as another” she fairly crowed.

 Sometimes, they would bake pot brownies.  They didn’t taste very good, being filled with crumbled leaves and the occasional seed. But they were sweet.  They were food.  They didn’t have to tell me twice.

I have this picture in my mind.  A picture of me, kneeling at the side of the enormous waterbed.  Watching the water undulate as they coupled in every combination you can imagine. That picture allowed me to survive.  To pretend that I was merely an observer.

The truth is far more complex and far more depraved.

It began with me on that side of the bed.  Watching.  But soon I was enlisted to be a part of their party games.  I would sit on the bed, in the middle of the tangle of bodies.  A touch here, a touch there. They especially thought it was fun to make me aroused, with angry shots of electricity that made me need to pee. That feeling always made me cry.  I soon learned not to give them the satisfaction, however.

It was a slow, long road to my capitulation.  To get to the point where I believed I was a black and ugly as they were. To the point where I would not just watch, would not just do as ordered.  A point where I would initiate sexual activities.  I have been assured that I had no choice.  That, in my mind at the very least, I was doing what I had to in order to survive. To protect my sister and Moses.

It wasn’t a pretty road.  I witnessed Buffalo raping his wife.  Heard him say time and again that soon I would be big enough and that would be me.  They degraded me. Touched me and made me touch them.  I don’t know which was worse, the men, or the women.

It was as if, with no contact with others, stuck there is our own bubble of a world, they lost their moorings.  Every indignity, every shameful action, emboldened them more.

I had only two choices, live, or die.  Accede to their desires or fight back.  I supposed it was inevitable that, sooner or later, Buffalo would rape me. 
The memory is fuzzy, feelings more than thoughts or visions.  I was face down on the waterbed, his weight focused in his hand on my back.  It hurt.  Of course.  But it also made it very clear that he could, and would, do anything he like. 

I decided then that I would take control.  If I initiated sex acts, I would be the one with the power.  I would be safe.  I could guide the game, keep me safe and the other children, too.

I began to push myself. To force my body toward pain.  To take joy in hurting and shaming myself. I hated me as much as I hated them. I deserved to suffer.  I wanted to suffer.

All of this was hidden, behind that frozen memory, until I was well into my 40’s.  Because I couldn’t afford to know I had been that person. 

I was already suffering from severe depression.  I spent years fascinated with death.  Longing for the release. But I couldn’t do that, either.  I knew I had to be there. There for my sister.  There for my father.

So, I did what I had been taught.  How often did I abandon my body, once I had approached them sexually?  Hoping against hope that, somehow, I would be freed.  I feared them far more than I feared death. 
I couldn’t imagine ever leaving that house. Going back to my mother was out.  Because my father needed me.  Loved me.  And because she frightened me.  Around her I feared this deep, dark blackness. Something so horrid I couldn’t even imagine it.  Something far worse than death.

Taken

So, I talked a little bit about the shame I experienced as a little girl.  It left me feeling that I was defective.  I didn’t have a right to be here.  I wanted to not exist.  That feeling continued through most of my life.  Although there were plenty of things that happened in-between, next I am going to tackle the precursors to the biggest contributor to my toxic shame.

When I turned 9 my father took my little sister and I on a visitation. (My parents had separated when I was 6). We went to Florida to visit my Great-grandfather.  On the way home my sister got sick from flying, so his girlfriend was with her in the bathroom.

It was New Year’s Eve. While he and I were sitting, waiting for them to come out I was thinking about my mother. There was this hard lump in my chest and I could feel the prickling of impending tears.  I turned to him and said something to the effect of, I don’t want to go home.  Or maybe it was, I want to stay with you.  My mother frightened me.  She always had.  But since the separation it was worse. She was intent on preventing me from growing up to be like my father. I read it as more proof I was Wrong.

Anyway, my father looked at me with an inscrutable look on his face.  “Well,” he told me “it isn’t in my plans, and it will be very inconvenient for me, but since you asked, I will keep you.” Did I see a flicker of triumphant glee?

That hard lump plummeted to my feet. I had been looking for attention and approval. To remind him I was on his side.  Now, instead, I had a premonition of bad things to come.   Because of that very brief exchange, I blamed myself for everything that happened in the six months that followed.

Much of went on before we ended up in the house where we would eventually stay is fuzzy in my mind.  I remember sleeping on someone’s floor. I remember visiting several houses, mostly of pregnant women.

 My father, a MD, had forgone the head of surgery appointment in exchange for working as a home childbirth practitioner.

When we finally arrived at Shirley (the name of the town where the house was) I remember being tired and scared.  The house was supposedly haunted.  The first night there, while my father made whatever arrangements he made for them to care for us whenever he was busy catching babies.  I remember playing with the fire in the fireplace.

The logs sputtered and spit out plumes of sparking red embers. Then there were the candles.  I would stick my finger in the gooey wetness, then watch it harden into a slippery tip.  Only to melt it back down in the flame.  I would slowly run my finger through the flame, thrilling in the possibility of pain, of damage. 

So, for the first time I can remember, I sought pain to comfort and ground me.  To make the inexplicable somehow not.  I was going to live in this big, beautiful, but haunted house?  At least I’d be with Daddy, I told myself.  He would make everything ok.  That was his purpose.

Then I met Them.  There were five adults in the house, a single man who lived in the attic and two married couples who each had a 6-month-old baby.  One of them also had an 8-year-old boy.  I say Them because they became largely interchangeable in the light of everything that was yet to transpire.  

The women are a blur.  A flounced skirt, perhaps?  A sense of hippies. A thick smell of marijuana smoke.

Buffalo stood out in sharp relief. A huge presence with a scraggly beard and nauseating body odor. I could tell I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side.

I longed to run and hide behind my father.  However, thanks in part to my mother, I was adept at suppressing fear.  Never let them see you blink.

I was shell shocked by the entire situation.  I wanted to be with my father desperately.  I knew I would have a great deal of autonomy.  By which you should read neglect. My father tended to treat me as an equal.

He was secure in his imagined role of savior to society. At home childbirth.  Macrobiotic diet. Free love.  Hyperactive sexuality. Part of that role involved documenting for posterity every precious thought.  Sometimes he would take me out.  Though I don’t know where we went, I remember him recording his conversations while he explained it all to me.  I felt honored. I felt scared.  Some of it didn’t make sense.  Other parts did.  I felt this awesome responsibility as his protégée.

I felt responsible for the other children in the household. Taking care of the babies was fun, initially. Eventually, however, if became simply a chore shoved at me by parents that had better things to do. Or worse, depending on your view.  They all were heavy pot smokers, and other things I don’t know for sure what they were.

  I know one of the things they liked to use was LSD. I know because, much further into this journey, my father taught us to finger spell the alphabet.  He spelled out the letters, and when I repeated them aloud I though, for a moment, he might actually kill me.

He was severely paranoid.  Later diagnosed as schizophrenic or severe Bipolar 1. People watched him.  Went through his things.  The government was out to get him because he was changing the status quo.

The adults in the household were in a band. My father loved to play guitar and write songs.  It was up there with practicing medicine, for him.  They would take us out on gigs.  I remember one time when they played in a hotel.  They got a room for us kids. When the babies were asleep the rest of us snuck upstairs to listen to them.

overall, it wasn’t too terrible—yet.

The more my father was away the more they came to abuse me. They were cruel in both big and small ways.  They took away our stuffed toys to give to the babies.  One day, one of the women was mad because our room was a mess. So, she took away my precious baby doll and my tattered security blanket. It was a later incarnation of a small, pink checkered crib quilt. I curled my 9-year-old body up into a tight fetal ball and slept each night with it pulled around me.  It was a magical protection.  A thick layer of cloth that made me invincible while I slept.

It was my blanket, and not the heavy dresser that we pushed against the door each night before we went to sleep, that allowed me to lower my alert enough to sleep.

 My father got Heben (my doll) back for me.  The blanket had gone directly in the trash.  All that remained was the ribbon that had gone around the edges. I feared I’d never sleep again.  I feared someone, somehow, would find me in the dark of night and destroy me.

That was not nearly enough for them, however.  There were intrusive actions, like giving us hot water and soap enemas. There were also thigs that are harder to define.

One of the women would make me stay in the bathtub after the other children were done.

I had to lie in the bathtub with my butt against the front of the tub and my legs straight up in the air.  She would run a thin flow of hot water over my genitals. It made me feel like I had to pee.  It also made me angry. I couldn’t afford to be angry.  There was no question in my mind They could cause grievous harm.  The squirmy feelings I got made me want to explode.

Meanwhile, my father was teaching us lessons. With his girlfriend showing us the exact steps and actions, we learned how to perform oral and manual manipulation of his genitals.  I can’t really express how bad that made me feel.  I was responsible for us being there, after all.  I knew it made me feel awful, it was one of the first times in my life when I dissociated.

However, my father was all knowing, to me.  So, logically, I believed the bad feelings I felt were the result in something wrong with me. I couldn’t think anything bad about my father.  I needed his “love” to survive.  I was 9.  I knew, despite all the responsibilities they placed on me, I could not survive on my own.  So, I decided that what he did was good, and natural, and right. The problem was with me. If I could just feel the way he said I should, everything would be ok.

All of this is simply the prelude to the true horrors.  The days and nights that left me owning evil as my own.  The horrors that left me feeling so black, so fundamentally tainted, that I was sure there was no possible coming back.  I thought me behavior was up there with people that had become cannibals to after an airline crash to survive. Feelings that frightened me so I would do anything not to know they were there.

All of this was like a kindergarten education to the PhD level experiences that were yet to come.

Eventually, They upped the ante.

The fate of the puppies

When I was four years old our family dog had a litter of puppies.  They were these cute, snuggly fur balls.  It was so much fun to play with them. They stayed in our screened in porch off the kitchen.

One morning I woke up early.  I was eager to play with the puppies, so I put on my slippers and creeped across the cold linoleum floor.  Very carefully, very quietly, I opened the door to the screened in porch. Ever so quietly, I made my way over to the box where the mommy dog lay.  Lucy, my favorite puppy, was lying in the box next to her mother. 

I went to pet her, and she didn’t stir.  A sudden coldness grasped me.  I tried to pick her up.  She didn’t stir.  Her little eyes stayed closed. I put her down and made my way back to the kitchen. 

I didn’t know what to do.  I wasn’t really supposed to go out to the dogs by myself.  Still, I felt certain there was something terribly wrong. I was so scared I wanted to sink to the floor.  I wanted to disappear. 
I forced my little body to move. I half ran, half tiptoed my way to my parent’s room.

Mommy and Daddy were sleeping.  I went to Daddy’s side of the bed.  I tugged gently on his arm.  I half wished he wouldn’t get up.  Nevertheless, I tugged harder.  “Daddy”, I gave a loud whisper. Then again.

Daddy stirred. His eyes opened. It took a minute for him to focus on me. When he did, he looked annoyed.  I wished I could crawl back out and go back to my bed. Lucy needed me, though.  So, I stayed.

He asked me what was wrong. I tried to explain about Lucy not answering me, not feeling soft and fluffy.

Suddenly, he threw back the cover and grabbed his robe.  I struggled to keep up as he raced to the covered porch.  I stood in the doorway while he went out to investigate.  He told me to go back inside and help mommy make breakfast.

I heard the screen door open, shut, and open again.  I was crouched on the kitchen chair.  Daddy came back inside.  I saw him give my mother a look.  He put up his hands in an “I don’t know” gesture.

I very quietly asked him where the puppies where.  I wanted to know when I could play with Lucy.

He sighed and sat down on the kitchen table.  He explained to me that someone had left the screen door unlocked.  The puppies got out of the door.  They climbed through an open space under the porch.  There they found broken glass. The puppies ate the glass.  The glass cut them inside and they were dead.

He told me we were going to have to bury the puppies.  He got a large box and gently put the puppies in it.  Then he put on the lid.

He was going to take the puppies up to the forest behind our house and bury them.  I didn’t know what bury meant. I didn’t really understand dead.  I was sure I was the one who left the door open. Surely my parents weren’t that careless. It was my fault the puppies were going to be up in the forest, cold and alone.

Daddy put on his shoes and picked up the box.  He asked me to come with him, but I refused.  I climbed up on my yellow foot stool, the one I used to reach the sink, and watched him climb the hill behind our back yard. 
Suddenly, I wished I had gone with him.  I longed to race after him, to yell for him to wait.  Because I knew I was a bad person, a careless person.  Because I couldn’t even remember to close a door the puppies would be gone forever. They would be stuck in the wood, cold, lonely, and scared.

Now, frightening as that experience was, there is obviously as back story.  No child takes on that level of responsibility unbidden. So, what was life like for little Debby before the puppies died?  What made me vulnerable enough to wish I didn’t exist?

Well, one of the earliest memories I have was of being unsafe.  My mother took me for swimming lessons.  I was about 2 ½.  In the dressing room there was a huge window that showed the pool.  The only thing was, the water line was above the window. I saw other children diving and swimming under the water.

I was no dummy. I knew I couldn’t stay under the water without breathing. Of course, I could not have told my mother that. I just knew that I couldn’t go in that pool under any circumstances. 
I did what any smart kid would do.  I threw a huge tantum.  I didn’t believe that my mother could keep me safe. I did not trust her, somehow.

At another time, perhaps even before that, my mother left me alone in a shopping mall. It was time to go home, but I didn’t want to leave. So, I dragged my feet. I sat on the ground.  I refused to go.  I don’t know why my mother didn’t just pick me up. I do know she said something to the effect of get going or I’m going to leave you here.

She did.  Much to my surprise and dismay.  I saw her walk away. I don’t know if I could see the car. Apparently, she drove around the block, then came back for me. My life was definitely not safe.

I did mention that there were two major contributors to my sense that I shouldn’t be.  Stay tuned…..

Start at the beginning

Hello.

I’m Debi. Shame has been my companion since I was very small. There were two incidents that really framed my early years. Both occurred when I was about 4.

But before I get into that, perhaps you would like to know what you are getting into, before you invest your precious time in my words.

My life has been pretty chaotic. The first 5 years involved repeated traumas. When I was 6, my parents separated. That was something odd, and it made me odd. Divorce was still relatively uncommon.

Like some other survivors of sexual abuse, I found an inappropriate man and let him make me his. Within a few years, we were active in alternative life styles. For those who don’t follow, that was a variety of atypical sexual activity. OK. I’ll say it. We started by looking for someone to have a threesome and ended in a cozy swingers group.

After my marriage ended I drifted through life. I tried desperately to find some meaning, some purpose. When I failed I landed myself in a psychiatric day program.

That was the start of a whole other life. I started to want to want to get better. From there to here is a whole other story. It has been almost 13 years. I have built a life for myself. A life with little drama. I have friends, and a part time job. I am on disability. I had to truly struggle to find acceptance of that. Things are good, now.

The thing is, I feel that there is something in my healing that could benefit others. I want to write about my journey. To offer a smidge of hope to others.