You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I had a friend ask me the other day, “Why did they choose us?”
We were talking about something else entirely, but I immediately knew what she meant.
And my initial reaction was, oh no. I’ve been waiting for this question ever since I started writing about sexual abuse. Oh no. If I answer will it make things better, or worse?
“Why did they choose us?” I repeated, hoping to buy some time or that she would beg off. I didn’t think she was in a place to hear what I believe to be the truth. Maybe she meant something different.
She did not.
We chatted a bit, I danced around it. I didn’t really answer. I didn’t say what I fundamentally believe.
Because we were handy.
Because we met some monstrous criteria he or she had in their head, and because he or she could.
This, the crime that seems the most invasive, the most intimate? The more I learn about it from all perspectives, the more I heal, the more stories I bear witness to, the more I come to believe it is actually utterly impersonal.
It has nothing to do with you. You are a means to an end. Your abuse, MY abuse, was solely about our abusers.
It doesn’t feel that way, though.
Which is harder? To feel singled out for such a heinous act, to feel as though something about you drew that predator’s gaze? Or to be a happenstance victim. To be someone he just assumed wouldn’t tell, or to whom he had access? If not you, then someone else. To have someone take such depraved and grievous liberties with your body just because you were convenient?
They’re both hard. Unthinkable, really.
We look for meaning in everything, I think. I know I do. I want to know WHY. The times in my life when I have felt the most despair, when I have been the most self-destructive- actually, just DESTRUCTIVE- have been when I’ve been wrestling with a why. I want things to make sense. I want a reason that makes sense to me. I want ANSWERS, damn it.
It explains the interesting relationship I have with my body. For most of my life, it has been an abusive relationship- and I have been the abuser. I had a therapist once tell me to say loving things about my physical appearance in the mirror. Stuart Smalley style affirmations.
I could not. I mean, I honestly could not. She eventually suggested that perhaps I just refrain from saying outright hateful things.
I have a disconnect with my body- I always have, for as long as I can remember. I have the ability to float away. That began as a protective measure- maybe even a life-saving one- but has become a stumbling block over time. When you disassociate that way, what should be acts of affection or intimacy become something happening to you, rather than with you.
That is not good.
My body, because it was the arena for my abuse, became my enemy. And I did not want to live with the enemy. I did battle, instead. My body became a war zone.
That disconnect, fueled by shame, led me to starve myself, eat too much, actively avoid sleep, drink too much, and put off taking care of simple medical issues until they became emergent.
The only times in my life I have consistently taken care of my body in a healthy way were when I was growing another body inside of me. Once again, my body had a purpose that was not about me, but this time, it was in a good way. I was kind to myself because it benefited my children, who I already loved unconditionally. I loved being pregnant. I felt so happy and present. I was creating a family. MY family.
I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I am my family.
I had a moment yesterday, thinking about this when I busted out laughing. The college I went to had “Spirit, Mind, Body” as its motto. Yeah…
I’m finally starting to make these connections. I’m working hard at being kinder to myself, and to somehow figure out a way to reunite those three. I’m getting the band back together. I’m working on mindfulness and staying present. I’m meditating.
I’m kind of pretending to meditate. But I’m trying.
God gave me this body to live in. It’s kind of miraculous, really.
Maybe it’s time to start thinking of it as home.
Jessica Malionek @ thecounterstool.me says
I love that poem. I think I’ve even used it on my own Counter Stool FB page to reflect upon. It’s deeply moving. And so is your piece today. Which I find soothing and strangely ironic as I’m working through my own anger these days. I’m positively brimming with it. For the most part I focus on the heartbreak and grief of being fed to the wolf by my own mother. Somehow sorrow is easier than the anger and rage I internalized. Rage I turned inward; rage manifesting as self-loathing and a sense of unworthiness. Rage at being raped and violated. But I’m here now, holding so much rage, and I have to wade my way through it. I’m ready.
Your words resonate profoundly with me: “I have a disconnect with my body- I always have, for as long as I can remember. I have the ability to float away.”
Me too. ME TOO. … sigh… sob… Me Too!
Sometimes … lately, when I do the deep inner-work I can see myself wanting to float but I make myself stay. I imagine myself as a kite tethered to a tree. Floating but staying connected at the same time. For 35 years I disconnected from the ten years of childhood sexual abuse I endured. I’m just two years in the process of integrating it all. Only yesterday I lay on my acupuncturist’s table and she said, “Can you feel your legs. Can you feel your anger in your lower body?” I couldn’t. I feel it like a noose around my neck and a heart that is caged, but in my legs — nothing. As I stayed with my rage, I could start to feel it in my legs but again as a disowning — I said I felt as if knives were sloughing off my inner thighs. Just slicing and slicing them away. “Reclaim them,” she advised.
I’m working on this. I am. Feeling the anger and reclaiming my legs. My legs which carry me on my Ironman races. My legs which hold me back and get in my own way so very often. Disowned so they do not allow me to tap into my true power and strength.
“Can you imagine what you would be capable of if you reclaimed your whole body?” She asked. It’s almost unthinkable. But I’m close and I will get there. I will.
Thank you for this. Your timing was perfect for me today.
Much love to you,
In Others' Words says
Sister. “Can you imagine what you would be capable of if you reclaimed your whole body?”
No. I can’t. But now I am wondering, and maybe that’s a step in the right direction? Thanks for this. xoxox
Jessica Malionek @ thecounterstool.me says
No, Dear One, thank you. Truly. XO
I probably shouldn’t reply because I’m so not in a good place today. So no telling what I’ll say, and forgive me for it in advance.
Everything you say is true.
That convenience, that gratification of their desires, that……. use you because you are *there* — how it took me until my 40s to figure that one out, who knows, but … it did.
And yeah. That’s a hard one to wrap your head around, isn’t it? To incorporate into your soul?
Makes you as meaningless as a dirty dishrag.
Which is exactly how I feel. So, pretty accurate, huh?
I rejected the idea of self affirmations, also — I mean, are you KIDDING me? I can’t. NO WAY. The idea makes me nauseous.
Slightly (only) off topic — what do you think about what Ben Carson said about what the college kids should have done with the shooter?
Because last night, my husband was talking about it, and agreeing with him in principle,
And suddenly — that was a very personal, extremely directed at me, statement. Not that he would have EVER meant that in a million years, and I know my whole reaction puzzled him. I shut down, went mute — couldn’t express anything — he knew he hit me in the gut, but no idea why — but I believe yeah, he probably would do something like what Carson suggested, he probably would fall into the more active “fight” of fight/flight/freeze…
but I didn’t, and suddenly … don’t I have enough shame for not saying no? letting all that happen for so many years, so many times? just going along, being used that way?
and he wouldn’t have let himself be used. But I did.
and I have never felt judged by him before, and he would never want me to feel judged…. but right now I do, and that feels pretty awful.
In Others' Words says
First of all, it does NOT make you as meaningless as a dishrag. You not meaning anything to your abuser and you being meaningless are not the same thing, not even close.
I will say this, and then not another word on the topic because I am not in a place to have a rational discussion about guns, gun control or school violence- I think as Far as Mr. Carson goes, I am not interested in anyone voicing an opinion from the cheap seats. I have no interest in, or respect for ANYONE who says what someone should do in a situation they’ve not faced. It is arrogance at its worst.
And that was easy to toss off (Carson), but so much harder hearing the same thing from my husband.
In Others' Words says
But do you think it was directed at you, or is that just the context you gave it given your experience?
In Others' Words says
okay, just re-read your comment. No, I see he didn’t mean it that way. That’s not him judging you, that’s you judging you. Please don’t do that. Here’s what I am learning- people talk about fight and flight as though those are the only two options in crisis. Not true. We do what we need to do to survive, and I repeat, no one, NO ONE, gets to judge.
Correct. He’d cut off his right arm before he’d ever hurt me.
But it doesn’t matter, it still hurt. And he did mean what he said — that he would act. And I think he would.
Just because I extrapolated it from there — from one situation to mine.
I think he’d have never let anyone use him that way. Cheap seat or not, I think it’s a fair statement.
But I did.
And God knows that haunts me enough day in, day out anyway.
I’m sure you are right. He would not judge me. But that’s only because he loves me, because he knows me in particular. Not because it isn’t worthy of being judged.
Your friend’s question was a good one. Your reply is the correct one.
As much as I hate that, I can wrap my head around I was just sexual gratification. Convenient. And probably just a tiny bit hated by him. Despite the fact that I hero worshipped him. Talk about skewed, right? I’d looked up to him, always.
And then I let him use me.
So my “Why?” question is a different one. Why did I let him, why didn’t I stop him, why didn’t I tell him no?
And I know all the rational answers the therapists give, that you will want to give, but until I can accept them in my heart, you might as well save the keystrokes.
Because I don’t know how to be okay with all that.
It was awful to be sitting there last night, watching the news, having a normal conversation, and then suddenly be in the middle of that. Lost in time, lost in space. Transported back. And feeling like — this time — my husband was there, watching, judging. I know he wasn’t, wouldn’t, but I can’t shake the tears today. I don’t know how to interact with him tonight, pretend all is normal.
I know it’s silly to feel hurt when he never would have intended it, but it’s because it did stir all my own feelings and judgments. And it throws me off the ragged edge, and thank you for giving me a place to at least be heard, because otherwise I think I would have already self combusted today.
In Others' Words says
I have a horrible head cold and am about to log off for a bit, but this needs saying.
1. He THINKS he knows what he would do.
2. You THINK he would have reacted differently
3. Your abuse was not your fault.
4. Your abuse was not your fault.
5. Your abuse was not your fault.
6. Your abuse was not your fault, friend. Never your fault. Not for one second.
Yes, exactly. I tried to address this in a post called Why me? …you very eloquently answered that question.thank you
I tried to address this in “why me?” But you very eloquently answered the question. Thank you!
Daily Presents/Cadigan Creative says
Me, too – I am making/seeking/trying-to-celebrate the mind/body/spirit connections, too. Magic when you get a peek. Right now I am focusing on mind/spirit – I’m finding I’m actually a fairly smart cookie. (Did I just say that out loud?) Body and I aren’t perfect, but I’m being a better listener to Body, and anyway, one thing at a time. Love. xoxo
Spot on as usual. Thank you for your work. ❤️