Thursday, October 2, 2008

Our Stories: Fearless Forgiveness

According to the Department of Justice, about a third of all girls and a seventh of all boys are molested before they reach the age of 18. A third of that group is under 12. Consider that it’s thought that only 35% of abuse is ever even reported - that makes for some grim statistics.

I don’t know too many women who got through their young lives without being victim to molestation at the hands of family, acquaintance, or a stranger. I’m one of them, having been assaulted by an teenage acquaintance when I was 6.

I’d like to introduce you to Kim who writes with an incredibly powerful voice. I had contributed at her former blog, The Peace Tree. She’s just getting back into the groove on her new blog, A World of Progress. I had the honor of having her hang out with me summer before last after we met through blogging. And, my hope is to walk her down the aisle when she marries her lovely other half, M. Her enthusiasm even made me pretty giddy. I count her on my short list of life and heart friends.

When I asked to her to interview, we both knew what I wanted her to talk about without having to speak it.

Kim, you’re 47 – and a long way from where you started. Tell us a little about that start.

I was born in Dallas, Texas. My biological father split before I was one year old and I lived there with my mom and maternal grandparents, off and on through my mom’s second marriage that only lasted about a year, until I was 6 years old. My granddad was a master carpenter and my most influential role model. I followed him everywhere and my mom still says to this day I walk just like him. His giant carpenter’s tool box was my toy box and I am pretty sure that is where I got my love of all things “tools.” My mom worked all the time and my grandparents were actually more like my parents. They were wonderful, and bought me all the cap six-shooters, bows and arrows, baseball bats, cowboy boots and hats I wanted at the Five&Dime. My natural tendency to climb trees was never ridiculed and I was only forced into the dress and patent leather shoes on Easter-for about 45 minutes.

Then, a big change rocked your world – what was that?

My mom met and married the man she is still married to today when I was six years old and we moved to New Orleans. He was a career Navy man.

After five years of living in run-down apartments, I began to have a lot of problems with my schoolwork and never could quite deal with the ongoing racial problems I encountered there as well as some pretty awful things that were happening to me at the hands of my stepfather, which my mom did not know about at the time. All this contributed to my failing the seventh grade. My mom decided to send me back to live with my grandparents, who had since left the city and moved to a rural east Texas town. I believe that decision saved my life.

You see, my stepfather started sexually molesting me when I was 8 years old until I left New Orleans when I was 12.

Things fell into a happier groove when you returned to your grandparents. What was next?

Growing up in East Texas with my grandparents was wonderful. I have always been a gifted athlete and while I was lost in the shuffle of a big city school, my natural ability on the tennis court and the softball field were noticed and celebrated in my new hometown. There, I was able to enjoy a sense of worth, accomplishment and camaraderie with others that I had never known before.

My stepfather retired from the Navy in 1976 and they moved back to east Texas as well, but not to the same town I was currently living in. So, I had to change schools again in my junior year and lost my superstar athlete status. Someone else held that title at my new school already. I learned a valuable lesson there, and that was sometimes just being the better player is not enough in life. Sometimes you have to prove yourself over and over again. It took a number of years before I finally figured out that the only person I needed to prove anything to was myself.

Tell me a little about where your life has taken you career-wise.

I wanted to be a professional tennis player. Even though I got a scholarship to play in college it did not take long for me to realize even though I was good, I was never going to be good enough to play professionally. I was pretty devastated by that realization and I did not much care about what I would do with my life for a while after that.

I stayed in school (they actually had a program to become a teaching pro and run a tennis club) but I lost interest when I started to realize that there were other people like me in the world (lesbians). I kicked around doing weird jobs like putting roofs on trailer houses and working in my parents’ country store but mainly I was interested in one thing for the next few years and that was girls.

At 25, I had a very serious car accident and all the docs agreed it was nothing short of a miracle I was not killed. Discovering my own mortality gave me a new perspective. I decided to get the hell out of dodge and joined the Air Force.

Say what you will about the military, but I found a path that served me well when I became a paramedic. I left the Air Force and found myself working in a series of increasingly responsible positions in the medical field. I seemed to have a knack. For example, being a tissue harvester made for interesting first date conversation. After years of hard work in various patient care positions and making myself useful at every possible turn in those jobs, the powers on high I found myself sitting in the board room with the rest of the power players, as their equal. My part of the kingdom was Training and Development. Seemed I also had a knack for motivating people to do better for themselves.

My partner at the time worked for Enron and we were living a life quite apart from our humble beginnings of practically living on love. My company took a nose dive shortly after my rise to the top and you all know what happened at Enron. When the companies folded, we took my golden parachute and our equity and jumped to the simple life. We bought 5 acres on the top of a mountain on the border of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

You aren’t with that woman anymore. Didn’t you take some time off to reflect after you both moved and then split up?

Before the whole idea of leaving it all behind came to be my partner and I became lost in the quest to become successful, materially speaking. We started with nothing and ended up with it all: the big house, the dream car and all the trappings of success and when we decided to leave it all behind what we found on the mountaintop was that we had lost “us” somewhere along the journey. She moved out of the little cabin on the mountain within six months of our arrival.

Blessed with enough money in the bank to not have to start working immediately, I had the incredible gift of a year sabbatical to sit alone on the top of a mountain and focus only on my new goal, to find and communicate with my Soul. I studied meditation and sought in earnest to find inner peace until I actually found it. No one was going to do that for me but me. Even now I’m back among civilization, those lessons are there for me when I need them Learning to trust what I know is right for me has been an incredible discovery.

What’s your current relationship status?

After a number of relationships lasting about five years each I have finally come to a place in life where I was able to be fearlessly open and maintain some discernment in the process. The result was meeting the love of my life and finding out that a relationship can be all that I ever imagined it could be. For us, that means an engine from which we generate our best selves and explore what trust and love are all about.

She is amazing. So, you still love me for encouraging you to get over your shyness and get that second date and first kiss, right?

I owe you big time.

Tell me about that family of yours?

I am an only child of an only child. I guess that probably made me naturally inclined to be self-referenced. It took a long time before I stopped trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be and settled into my own identity. My mom was married twice before I was six and her third husband turned out to be a child molester. He started abusing me when I was 8 and it continued off and on until I finally left home and moved in with my first girlfriend at 17.

Did you tell your mother about the abuse or did she suspect? How did you deal with her reaction when you told her?

I really believed that if I told my mom about what had been happening to me my step-father would kill us and then kill himself. I saw this happen to some kids I hung out with right after my mom married him and it always stuck in my mind after the abuse started. Their dad came to pick them up and I saw them pull away in his car. They never came back. He took them to a hotel room and shot them in the head and then shot himself. Since my step-father always left it to my imagination what would happen to me if I ever told anyone that was the thing that always came to my mind.

He was a sick man and probably would rather have shot himself and us as well rather than have to face the ridicule of others for his crimes. He not a very bright guy and he has a problem with trying to be a know-it-all in defense of his ignorance. I use the present tense because my mom is still married to him to this day. I might never have told her except that he was inappropriate with a girlfriend of mine and I completely lost it. I told my mom what had been happening all those years and her response was one for the books. “So, that’s why whenever he was in a room with you you were always on the other side of it.” Yep, Mom, that was it.

What have been the biggest obstacles in life for you?

Being sexually abused as a kid had a great deal to do with a low self-esteem. That, more than anything else, was my greatest obstacle and contributed to my late arrival to my own party.

I spent a number of years searching for my own sense of identity and I feel like even though it took awhile it was worth the wait. I may even appreciate myself more now than I might have if my way to finding myself had been easier.

Where did you start seeing the breakthroughs?

I owe a great deal of thanks for the emotional healing I have achieved to the women I have loved and have loved me over the years. Even though it’s true there is a big old tomboy in me, now I know how much I totally hid behind a persona to compensate for my inability to let another person touch me in a healthy reciprocal sexual way. I wanted to be “normal” and let go sexually but my partners were asked to be satisfied without that in our relationship.

I guess it was a sort of post traumatic stress syndrome that caused me to have a severe panic attack if I felt any kind of sexual aggressiveness toward me -even when I wanted it to be welcome and it should have been.

I recently wrote a post over at my blog about 9/11. Most people might not see a correlation between sexual abuse and 9/11 but what ended up saving me and giving me the ability to participate in a healthy two-way sexual relationship was finding a way to forgiveness regarding what happened to me. I see a lot of the, “We will never forget,” and every time I see it I wonder for how many people that also means, “We will never forgive?”

Yep, that is a hard one. I get the feeling some folks can’t even go there at all. I understand that. Some things are just so terrible it can make you feel like you want to carry that hate forever. Like your hate is the only justice that it will ever meet. I felt that way about being sexually abused as a child. I carried that delicious hatred for the person who did that to me for a very, very long time. It was all I thought I had because they never suffered any official punishment. I realized over time that the hate I carried with me was now what crippled me and allowed those things to continue hurting me long after I had grown up and stood up to my abuser and exposed what he was and what he had done to an innocent child.

I think talking to other people who were hurting as a result of sexual abuse was self-help for me as well because eventually what I was saying to them sunk in to my own psyche: that forgiveness frees the victim but it does not change the fact the perpetrator will live with their crime forever nor does it condone their actions in any way. That is Universal justice and it cannot be escaped no matter how hard they try.

When you see your stepfather now, what is it like?

When people ask me this the only thing that comes to mind is I tolerate him. I love my mom and I understand why she has gone into denial about this and I suppose it is how she maintains her sanity in a place of not enough self confidence to leave him. I don’t really know how she feels about it because she lives in a state of denial about it. As for me, I don’t see her much because of him. She made a choice and I guess it is the best choice for her. I have learned to take responsibility for my own life and let her have hers in whatever manner she wishes.

Kim, what would you say to someone else in this situation who hasn’t found a way out of the darkness?

Keep living and keep loving, in whatever capacity you have in this moment and then the next. Try to be as kind to yourself as you can about the damage you carry and above all else talk about it when the opportunity presents itself. Talking to others is talking to yourself and you might find some incredible knowledge for your own use in your words. Over the past 30 years I have spoken to a number of other women who were abused and I always told them in order to be free from the abuse you have to find a way to forgive although I know it is not and easy thing to do.

When I was in the Air Force, I had a long late night conversation in the ER on night with a second lieutenant I was working with who was a few years younger than I. Her step-father had sexually abused her too. I asked her to think about how forgiving might help her move beyond it. I found a little note, folded up and stuck through the vents of my locker a couple of days later. It just said “Thanks, you were right.” I guess no one had suggested that to her before. I felt like the world was a little better place because she was going to be able to start to heal herself now.

If you’re being abused, you’re not alone - abusers use your fear to protect themselves. You can start by going here and here and calling the hotline.

If you’re an adult survivor of abuse, it’s not too late to receive help. You can start here. Or, look online for therapists who specialize in abuse recovery. Don’t have enough money? Your state and local mental health departments can offer services on a sliding scale.

Hahn at Home

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Lori, thanks for sharing this. It is inspiring and strengthening, for anyone finding themselves in a dark episode.
The strength and insight of your friend shines through..
Thanks to the both of you!