Monday, September 5, 2011

Hitch Up Your Gear and Keep on Moving

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

About 6 months ago, I collapsed through the doorway of a counselor's office. It felt like a last desperate act to hold on to what I hoped was left of me. She confirmed my hunches that the continuing struggles in my marriage may be directly related to my husband's sad, scary past. I wonder how we have made it this far especially when the journey has been arduous, confusing, and so often without visible reward. The hairy beast continues to haunt us. We daily fight to hold our ground. Rarely do we recover more of what was taken from us.

When you walk this road, there is so much about it that makes you feel isolated, alone, even a freak of nature. It is true that the media will go into a frenzy when some Hollywood star like McKenzie Phillips comes forward with a tale to tell. Today, there are hot lines, advocacy groups, and national networks which lend the feeling of a warm and fuzzy world where survivors can come in from the fraidy cat cold to seek help. Despite that aura of civility and safety, rare is the victim who finds the world warm and fuzzy when reaching out for help. Even rarer is the man who finds the mettle to speak the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
While one may find safety and help in the net of counseling, no one discusses the realities of survival in polite social company except in careful whispers that choke off when anyone comes close. Even as I have begun to navigate the journey of a 'surviving spouse', I have been amazed at how difficult it is to say the words for fear of doubt and dismay on the part of the person to whom I'm speaking.There are a few people with whom I can speak openly. One is in academia. In one of our earliest discussions, her voice dropped into a lower, weary octave:

Oh, my! It starts every year after fall break. I look up, and there is a face at my office door. Girl, after girl, after girl has finally experienced safety in the college dorm. They are here for 6 weeks and catch a glimpse that not everyone lived the life of intimate betrayal that they know. They go home and face the danger again. When they return to campus and to safety, the floodgates open. There is no unique demographic profile. The story and people come from every vocation, avocation, and economic level. Sometimes the victims are sib groups. Sometimes one twin will be a victim and the other have absolutely no clue. Sometimes one sib will not remember until the other brings the truth out into the open. The stories and their variations have no end, but come October, I know the line will form at the door.”

Other stories have begun to accumulate in my mind. During a recent gathering, I found that 3 of the 4 people in my group had experienced victimization as children. One of the 3 told the story of a young mother who had reached out to her in fear. This survivor of abuse feared acting inappropriately toward her infant son. She had battled a strong compulsion and wanted help before it was too late. In another situation, a wealthy, well respected member of the civic and religious community is under investigation. His own family went to authorities and revealed his crimes against another family member. How much courage did that take? I am amazed. They are my heroes.

More recently, I received correspondence from yet another victim. In the honesty of these words, one can understand the impossible strains brought to bear on victims of intimate abuse:

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
As if the act of sexual abuse is not destructive enough, there's all that shame and blame piled on top of the victim – not the perpetrator! Victims of other types of crime don't carry the blame for their assailants' actions. Victims of theft don't feel ashamed; they get pity and commiseration. Then, their insurance replaces their stolen possessions. Whose insurance can a victim of childhood sexual abuse sue to get a replacement for purity and innocence? Victims of other types of crime don't suffer in silence to protect their attacker's identity lest he/she be publicly humiliated. Victims of other types of crime don't shoulder the burden of protecting family from finding out and being upset....and they are often the very adults who failed to protect the victim. Worst of all: victims of other assault aren't asked "Why didn't you make him stop? Why did you let it go on after you got to be such-and-such age?"

In those words, I see the common battle that sets our journey apart. It's a fraidy cat world, I tell you. One that simultaneously wears you down and wears you out. Tonight, I hitch up my gear and set my face toward the future. If tomorrow I manage to stay one step ahead of the monster that would forever rob us of all we could have been, that will be a victory. I look over the last year and know we have not won the war. Tho' weak and weary, we have won some battles and marked some territory. We have survived and lived to say, "Take that, fraidy cat!" one more day.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
If you or someone you know is a recovering victim, please feel free to share these resources when the time and place are appropriate. Love you long and strong, fraidy cat. Come back tomorrow. I'll miss you if you don't! Not sure where we are headed, but when we get there, I hope we will find that I've written my way back to God.  

 Click here: for wives of victims

Isaiah 54:4a (Bible in Basic English)

Have no fear; for you will not be shamed or without hope: you will not be put to shame, for the shame of your earlier days will go out of your memory,


  1. Thank you for posting the links to those books. I think even though I do not really remember my abuse, my subconscious does and has negatively affected my relationships... until Chris. Maybe it is because I do not see one trait in him that my abuser (birthfather) had. In all the other guys I dated, there was something there that made me think of how he would be. I know Chris is the right Godly man for me.

    Maybe I should get this book for my brother, who is extremely wounded from a childhood that he could not control.

  2. I hope the books will be of value to you and your brother. I think your hunch about past relationships may be correct.