approaching the start of my 44th year on Earth, and I am just
beginning to possess my own story, especially my origin story. But who is a
person, if they cannot correctly remember their own history?
decade ago, a verbal exchange with someone from my childhood triggered a physical
and emotional reaction in my body that I am honestly just now processing with any
measure of stability. The disturbing comment sent me to bed bewildered and
crying, and a voice from my belly kept repeating that ‘something terrible has
happened to me and I have no memory of it.’
up the next morning changed at a fundamental level; I was suddenly a woman consciously
split in two, unsure of the truth of my own life, which left me sorely
debilitated in my ability to move forward. Prior to this exchange, I had been unconsciously split, which was more
comfortable for me personally, but probably not so much for those nearest me; unhealed
wounds tend to draw fresh blood as well as continue to bleed.
out therapy and counseling for obvious reasons, and by a stroke of what I consider
universal intervention, had already enrolled in massage therapy school, where I
was introduced to the worlds of somatic psychology and energy work, two tools
that have been invaluable to me through this process of discovery and healing.
I learned how to mine my muscles for stored information, to identify areas of
tightness and holding and gently coax them into softening, even momentarily,
and oftentimes when they did, stories jumbled out, pieces of my puzzling past.
We use our muscles emotionally without an awareness of doing so; sometimes those
emotions and the traumas they are connected to become frozen in tightened
tissues and are released when the muscles themselves release.
getting too bogged down in the particulars, I began to remember a sexual
relationship with an authority figure in my life that transpired for a
relatively short period of my childhood. The relationship ended when it was
discovered by a family member who put a stop to it, but there was never any
legal action taken, something that made me seriously question if what I was
remembering was true. My family was deeply religious, and the adult in my story
was a leader in our fundamentalist Christian church. It is my belief that this
person’s status was maintained out of a fear that those who had made
professions of faith under their tutelage might leave the faith if the story
was made public. Also, I’m not sure there is anything fundamentalist traditions
bungle as badly as human sexuality. There is a general immaturity in the
handling of the topic that becomes increasingly problematic when situations
occur outside of accepted norms.
the initial trauma for me wasn’t that the relationship happened, but that it
ended abruptly. I was maybe eight years old when I began processing my first
broken heart. No one expects desire from a child, but if you expose a child to
sex, attachment can arise organically from the acts themselves, especially if
the adult is a part of the child’s authority structure. At least, that is what
happened to me: I fell in love with my abuser. I did not understand what we
were doing, but I interpreted it as love.
with a broken heart is a dangerous force. When our relationship ended, I
remember feeling wrecked and furious. I had no wellspring of self to lean on, I
just experienced rejection and despair. I coped by eating meals alone in my
room for several months and by displacing my crush onto a cartoon character.
is where the story gets real; I have come to realize that most of my forgetting
of this whole history hinges on the fact that I myself became a predator, after
being taught things for which I lost an outlet and had no frame of reference. I
can’t be certain that I have recalled every predatory event perpetrated by my prepubescent
self, but I do remember several incidents of things ranging from using sexual
language to titillate two boys for what may have been almost a year of
recesses, until we all just felt gross, to physical acts with at least three
In a cosmic cliché for the ages, this all came to a head at a
church camp one summer. I groomed a slightly younger girl who was not comfortable
with whatever I was suggesting. I do not know if I touched her at all or just
verbally proposed an idea, but she went to the camp nurse, who confronted me about it in
front of many of the girls in my cabin. She told me that what I had
done was called rape, and that if I were older, I would be going to jail. I was
mortified. I had heard about rape routinely on the Christian radio shows that
played daily in my home and it had always terrorized me. I still didn’t even
fully understand what sex was, even though I had experienced pieces of it, and
I obviously was unaware of what constituted rape. I knew it was something awful
that happened inordinately often to women, and since I was female, I didn’t realize
I could also commit it. The nurse’s public confrontation of me happened because
I had been made a counselor for the cabin and looked older than I was, but I was
twelve years old, and four years into my crime spree. I was extremely
traumatized by my public shaming, and responded by believing I had committed
the unpardonable sin, a nebulous act which no one in our denomination could
confidently define, although everyone agreed that committing it was a ticket
straight to Hell. I made a childish commitment to a life of piety, in an effort
to earn a way out of damnation. I wish I had received counseling for my trauma,
but my church held a very dim view of psychologists and therapy, the standard
reaction to any authorities situated beyond the church confines.
than a year after this scarring confrontation, for which I am nonetheless
grateful, my family moved to another part of the state, and I apparently just
started over by wiping my memory of all of it, both what had happened to me,
and how I had behaved in response to it. I just overwrote it and started a new
story, one where my childhood was unusually healthy and happy, and where I was
most certainly neither victim nor villain.
true origin story remained sublimated for twenty years, until that conversation
which set off a bomb in my nervous system and started me on a ten-year journey
of piecing myself back together intentionally. When I began to recall my own
trauma, I was of course livid. Self-righteousness is often the fuel of the
wrongfully wounded. At the same time though, I had this
just-beneath-the-surface sensation of slime on myself which frightened me and
kept me existing in a state of perpetual undermine, by which I mean I still
felt damnable, maybe even creepy.
I got brave enough to face it, preferring the harsh truth to a lie that kept me
blameless but robbed me of my power in the exchange. In owning my part of my
childhood tragedy, I have found the beginnings of empathy for my perpetrator.
It can be argued that our actions were morally different, in that they were an
adult, and I a child; believe me, I have thrown myself on that logic for
salvation many times throughout this process. Truthfully though, I have no way
of knowing if my childish actions were experienced by my peers as trauma or
rape, and I have no idea if they are still affected as adults by whatever I did
to them, but I must acknowledge it is possible. Instant devastation, to find
myself in the same category as the thing I hate, the thing I judge mercilessly
in my righteous indignation.
How I long
for a world with a cure for the worst in us; a place where we can fail, perhaps
even unforgivably, and still somehow be restored to our place in the pack. I
don’t know a lot about the authority that traumatized me, but I did hear them
briefly share in some class or something that they had encountered some kind of
sexual harassment too. I don’t expect they were given any more help in dealing
with that trauma than I was, and they were a representative of the faith as
well, with higher expectations of propriety placed on them. Confession for
them, in that environment, would mean excommunication and disgrace, full stop. What
a heavy burden to carry for a lifetime. I am unwilling to make excuses for
unrepented actions, but I am willing
to accept that there is no such thing as getting away with it and to consider
that this person probably suffers a lot under the weight, and will continue to
until it is dealt with, finally.
willing to accept that suffering as a form of justice.
And I will
also do whatever is mine to do in service of creating a world that gives us
interventions and true corrections and ways back to wholeness, most especially
when we are at our worst. So much of the tragedy in our world is the direct
result of our reactions to our traumas. May we grow to understand that we are
all both perpetrated against and are ourselves perpetrators, so that we may
learn empathy and unlock new possibilities for the quality of life on our