In the Beginning

In order to understand the nature and flowing references throughout my blog, I recommend reading my initial post The End of the Beginning first.


The General

Every army needs a General. Someone to lead, to call the shots, to draft the plan, and to execute. My army of supporters is no different. The General of my army is my older brother.

I debated for many months on when and how to share my story of abuse with my brother. I desperately longed to have his support but was unsure the effect this would have on our relationship. Would he believe me? Would he question the details (some of which I do not have)? Would I be able to communicate the story and my pain in a way he can understand? Would he freak out? Would he immediately jump into action (for which I'm not ready)? Would he be able to understand my sorrow or would it be too difficult for him? Would he be able to help me through this or am I better off keeping my secrets?

I visited with my brother numerous times in various places between the months of April and June, but it never seemed to be the right time. Ultimately I decided to tell him one night in late July during a family visit when everyone else had gone to bed. We sat on the back porch of my new lake house and it was right. I was ready. The monologue flowed. I was able to recount the story with clarity and, astonishingly, without tears. He listened. He empathized. He expressed his sorrow for the pain I have endured. It was precisely the support I needed.

These days my brother and I are closer than I ever thought possible. We talk more openly and honestly than we have in the 38 years I've known him. We have always been close, but never like this. Never this raw, this vulnerable, or this authentic. And in this deep abiding love I have found a great source of healing. When I spoke about the healing nature of sharing your story in my post Super Better, it was my brother who inspired this line of thought. This has been such a powerful part of my healing journey, I want to express those same thoughts here.

Sharing my story has been most healing for me and here is why: deep down I felt unlovable, unacceptable, and fundamentally flawed because of what happened to me. That's why I kept it a secret; if people knew the terrible truth then they would surely be disgusted and leave me! Ironically, when I gave my loved ones a chance to really know me, when I let them into my pain and see that they love me anyway, it deconstructed my prison of shame. When they stand by my side, when they listen to my pain without running away, then and only then I know that my deepest fears are not and never were real. By sharing my secret with my brother and experiencing the fullness of his support, I have never felt so loved and lovable. And when I see that I am lovable by him and others, I am able to love myself. This is the essence of healing.

For all the beauty and joy that has come with sharing the story with my brother, it has also come with great pain. He is now shouldering some of the weight of my sorrow, and this relief for me comes at a price to him. He did not sleep at all that first night. Later he told me he had nightmares for weeks about all the things that happened to me, and he has guilt over not being there to protect me. I have seen him many times the past few months and he has changed. We have had many conversations about our shared sorrow, for all we can really do in this situation is to keep talking. 

Even though it pains him, I am not sorry I told him. I needed his love and support in a way that I can scarcely communicate; there simply aren't enough words. I see a side of him now that I did not know was there, a caring and soft side that he hides from the rest of the world. He calls me just to say hello. He goes out of his way to spend time with me regularly even though we live 3 hours apart. He tells me he loves me at every opportunity, which melts my heart. He touches and hugs me more than ever, a reassuring affection that I direly need. He sends me text messages that simply say "Love you" which makes me cry every time. I am so grateful for his expression of love and care. It has unlocked a need inside of me that I wasn't aware that I had.

There was a practical reason for sharing the story with my brother. Our maternal grandparents are both experiencing failing health. For months I have had recurring nightmares about the possibility of having to face my assailant amidst the inevitable grievous family events, whether hospital or funeral related. I have considered simply not attending these events, but I love my grandfather very much and want to be present. I decided that this would categorize as yet another thing stolen from me if I were unable to grieve his passing out of fear. I needed a family member in the know, someone to serve as a buffer and protector so that I can participate in family events should I so choose. I decided that it needs to be my choice.

This is how and when my brother became The General. I've been paralyzed and confused about how to progress with my healing as it relates to family matters. I am overwhelmed with fear in trying to figure out how to be around them without telling, but if I do tell then who and when to tell, what to say, who to involve, who to protect... all of these thoughts become a swirling mess inside my head and I fall into a state of total disillusionment. It's simply too much for me to process, and most often this line of thinking ends with a meltdown.

The General lays out options. He discusses tactical plans, courses of action, and probable outcomes. Ultimately he leaves all of the decision making up to me and, amazingly, has made it clear that we are on no timeline but my own. It was The General's idea for me to create Healthy Boundaries with our mother. He supported my conversation with her so much that he swept into her house right after I left to reinforce the points I had made. That was meaningful to me because I didn't have to do it alone. In fact most of the plans laid out by The General start with "We could..." I am no longer alone, and this is incredibly comforting.

Sometimes when we are suffering the most powerful thing anyone can do is just to sit with us. Sometimes there are no plans to be made, only tears to be shed. My brother has been there for this part, too. Some days he distracts me with video games, movies, and football. These times are precious to me. Other times there are courses of action to consider and options to be weighed, and this is when The General appears. Lately I have felt at a crossroads in evaluating such options; on one side there is justice, the other forgiveness. Spiritual truth tells me that ultimately forgiveness is the path towards healing. The General leans toward plans that involve reckoning; he thinks confronting the abuser in some way is necessary for my freedom. I don't know how I feel about this yet, and so it is not time for any decision. I will know when the time is right.

This past weekend I attended a film festival where I viewed a documentary called Beyond Right and Wrong. The film explores personal narratives of unthinkable loss, paralyzing grief and the struggle for justice, forgiveness, repair, and reconciliation. I saw stories of Israeli-Palenstinian conflict (for which my heart aches after visiting Israel this time last year), Rwandan genocide, and IRA terrorism. I saw deep peace in the eyes of those who had forgiven and listened to accounts of how they found that place. It is not the same path for everyone. I no longer see justice and forgiveness as mutually exclusive, for some of their stories included a required element of both. There may be some balance in the middle of this crossroad as yet undefined by me or The General. 

And so again, we shall keep talking.

Healthy Boundaries

Mommy Dearest,

When you came to stay with me last year, something happened... something unlocked inside of me. My mind & body were hijacked with memories of the last time we lived together. Secrets were revealed, things that happened to me, ways I was abused and molested by one of your family members. Either you knew about it and did nothing, which makes you an accomplice. Or you were so absorbed in your own world that you could or would not see or care about what was happening to me, which makes you an unfit mother.

Now that I remember and know these things, it has become very difficult for me to maintain a relationship with you. I can no longer pretend that these things did not happen, for pretending only perpetuates the secrecy, silence, and shame. It is this shame that has ruled my life for 25 years. I crave liberation from it and will stop at nothing to get there.

I thought for many years that it was my responsibility, my duty to take care of you. To keep you alive, provide for you. I felt it was my obligation to infuse life into you; that's why I took you on vacations like Disneyworld, to give you experiences that made you want to live. This was the unhealthy role reversal of me trying to give you life. I felt for many years that these things were forced upon me, that I was trapped. I now realize that all of this was in fact my choice. And in this realization I have found great freedom.

You see, I thought that by fixing you I could also fix me. I thought I was doing all of these things because I love you, but in reality I was trying to get you to love me. I now understand what was done cannot be undone. The damage I have suffered by and through your hands cannot be repaired. I see clearly now that you are not the life raft. We are both on the same sinking life raft, and I can only save one of us.

And so I am choosing differently. I am changing how I choose to invest my time and my heart. I am making better and wiser choices about how I invest myself for my own healing. For my own survival.

You've never truly felt the consequence of your choices when it comes to me. I've always been there for you. I'm the one person who never left you throughout your sickness. You never thanked me for that, just like you never thanked me for spending my entire life savings on the condo in which you now reside. I can only draw the inference that you do not appreciate that for which you express no gratitude.

I will continue to provide your basic needs and keep you safe. I will make sure you have a place to live, enough money to eat and have a safe existence. I will do for you what you were unable to do for me, but nothing more. I need time to heal, time to think, and the freedom to do so without having to pretend. And since I always feel I am pretending when around you, I need to do all of this away from you for some time.

This will not be forever. Perhaps someday we will be able to talk about this, perhaps not. I only know that this is what I need right now in order to heal. I am so very angry, and I need time to understand and process these feelings before I can have a healthy relationship with you if that is even possible. 


This is nearly verbatim the conversation I had with my mother two months ago.  At the same time, I constructed a privacy fence between my house and the unreasonable neighbors whose dogs killed my cat (outlined in my post The Spiral). The parallelisms and real-time metaphors in my life sometimes astound me. These were the healthy boundaries that I needed to put in place in order to create the necessary space to heal, and both have been extremely helpful in my journey.

For months I have felt disproportionate anger toward my mother (see On Rage). I was aware of my inability to separate my anger towards her and my anger towards The Wolf. I needed to parse out my feelings and specific wounds from these two very different experiences, which has been inordinately difficult because they were happening at the same time. Speaking my truth was a critical first step.

This conversation with my schizophrenic-abandoning mother was not easy. It was not cruel, but it was painful - because the truth hurts. It was high time I erected the fence I needed to feel safe and be true to my needs. In reading Dr. Henry Cloud's book Boundaries, I feel confirmed in my desire, need, and ability to do this for my own sanity.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse often have a blurred sense of boundaries. The lines are crossed physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. This violation leaves the victim in a boundary-less state, diminishing the ability to set future boundaries. As an adult, survivors of sexual abuse often struggle in setting boundaries in nearly all of their relationships. This has certainly been true for me from work to family to friends and most appreciably with my ex-husband (this will be discussed more in-depth in a later post called Married to Crazy).

For me, difficulty in setting boundaries came from an inability to process my own anger. Dr. Cloud speaks of anger as the internal communicator, the warning sign that your boundaries are being violated. In order to survive the abuse, I dissociated from my body which cut me off from all feelings. As an adult, I could not speak up when anger arose. In fact the mere appearance of anger would elicit a host of inappropriate internal responses such as fear and shame. I never learned how to express, own, or even recognize my own anger likely because it was precipitated by abusive situations over which I had no control. I was conditioned to feel my anger was the source and cause of why I was being mistreated.

Now, I welcome my anger. I am learning to acknowledge, understand, and listen to it. This is helping me to find peace and a balance in my life that was sorely lacking. No longer does my anger sway from one wide pendulum swing (no anger at all) to the other (complete and total rage at my mother). It is only within this balance that I am able to unravel the rage. I am no longer projecting my anger about being sexually abused onto my mother. Already I can recognize the absurdity of the two categories in which I placed her - an accomplice or unfit mother. The reality is she is likely neither of these extremes. But I had to let myself feel and acknowledge this anger before I could diffuse it.

I am now able to aim the anger I have about the abuse towards the real perpetrator. In this there is great progress for me. I am still angry with my mother, but it is for things that she did. Until my anger was clarified and focused on the rightful target, it could not be processed. For months it has been hanging around me like a hazy, red cloud; I have been irritable and unpredictable. Much of the time this anger gets focused inward and turns into depression. I am hopeful that processing all of this anger will abate those symptoms as well.

Learning to identify unhealthy boundaries and set new, appropriate ones is a necessary part of the the healing process. During the past two months I have experienced the fruits of these healthy boundaries in profound ways. I am discovering the difference and multi-dimensional uniqueness of my sorrow related to being abandoned by my mother versus that related to being sexually abused. More abuse memories surfaced, which helps to further clarify my pain and how to heal from it. I honestly do not think I would have had these memories without first setting boundaries; they have been painful but necessary.

Perhaps the most important positive outcome from setting healthy boundaries is that I feel safer. I am beginning to realize that I am in charge of my life. For the first time, I am in control! That feeling was stolen from me long ago along with myriad other things such as my innocence and my sense of self. Feeling in control means that I am beginning to trust myself in my ability for self-care. Consequently, I am beginning to feel whole. There is a part of feeling whole that is painful, for the whole me is a war-torn picture of abuse and neglect. These facts bring sorrow, but they also bring a sense of full knowing. And with this knowing comes acceptance and grace.

Dee says that one day I will feel joy in the full knowing of myself. It could come in an instant, like a lightbulb. I will wake up and realize that there is nothing more to discover, nothing more to remember, that I will know all there is about myself and this will bring peace. I am not there yet, but I await this day with great anticipation and hope.