Sunday, September 30, 2007

If Only

The room is set up in the same exact way as the week before. The only sound in the room is the beating of my own heart and a hard, cold, late November rain hitting the windows of the firehouse sideways.The soft lighting from the huge globe lamps hanging from the ceiling and the art adorned brick walls almost gives the room the auora for any kind of group meeting for writers, book club or any other collection of people gathering for pleasure. Pleasure is something I don't acquaint with this room. The stories these walls could tell would set this renovated firehouse on fire itself.

Nervous, scared, and bordering on weepy, I sit in the exact same place last week at this exact time, waiting for the others to pile in. Would this be like every other social situation in my life?
Would I try and play the game I seemed to invent- appearing to be present, but anywhere but in the moment?
It's so much safer that way. Remove myself mentally and pretend I'm part of the group. The wall I had so cleverly built to keep everyone at a distance was being threatened by joining this group. TGD was way too smart to let me continue to hide. This was going to be a problem.

One week down and 15 more to go. What was going to happen then? Would I be "cured", "normal"? The women and their stories were burned into my head and heart forever.
Of course I remember the stories, word for word, but I have trouble remembering their names. It's like my being a lover of dogs, I can always remember the dog's names, but not their master's name. Do I just remember what's important to me? Am I so self absorbed as my friends say? I had more questions about myself than ever before. Why was I so engulfed in self-absorption? Was it really narcissism? Great, I am following in my mother's and brother's footsteps. That old gene pool rears it's ugly head again.

Within minutes, my group mates arrive, Monica the tall blonde, Cindy in her business suit of the day, Jackie, the ever perky student, Diane, the school crossing guard and lastly Faith, who seems so fragile, that to even talk to her would spark some sort of anxiety or panic attack. You got the message she was sending.
Everyone seems to have followed my lead and takes the same seats they did as last week. I am not the person to follow guys, trust me!

TGD enters the room with her Ringer. TGD is carrying her fiery red mug of tea and gently places it on the side table next to her chair.
"Good evening ladies," TGD begins, " I am so happy you all decided to be here again tonight. I know last week was extremely difficult for everyone, not only sharing their own trauma and letting their voice be heard, many for the first time, but also extremely difficult in hearing everyone else's. I want you to know that you all did exceptionally well listening and speaking. Not only have we not spoken of our traumas, but no one has listened. That is not true anymore. You are each other's witness and during these 16 weeks we will learn how to speak to others outside of this group and teach them to listen."

With a black marker in her left hand, TGD writes on the white board two words:

Shame

Identity

TGD then explains "victims of trauma such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse often believe they deserved the abuse.
Out of this helplessness, you conclude, "I must be bad." "For example, she continues, "what is a child to believe if her own parent attacks or violates her? "Yes, I must be no good. I must have deserved it." "So the shameful experience is internalized and becomes the way she views herself. Over the years, these internalized shameful experiences affect how a person feels, thinks, and behaves and, especially if these events occurred as a child, the person's personality and identity can be dramatically affected."

TGD then asks the group for examples of our adulthood or childhood that filled us with shame.

It takes a little prodding, but the group gives several answers that TGD lists on the board. After a while TGD says, "okay lets stop here for now and discuss these issues" and places the black marker back in the tray of the white board and sits.

Silence. Now what???

For what seems like eternity there is stillness in the room. Everyone is looking at the words on the board.

After a while TGD turns to Monica, the tall blonde and says, "Monica, can you tell me what comes to your mind as you think about how your trauma has caused you to feel shame in any way."

Immediately Monica's eyes well with tears as she explains to the group the shame and blame she bears for her young son taking his life at the age of 14. Words between sobs, fill the room and rip at your heart as you listen.

"I never realized, he never said anything, he was a good boy, if only he told me, if only I paid attention, if only I was a better mother, if only his father liked him, if only I knew of the abuse, why didn't he think that I could have helped him, why did he think there was no other solution, did he die being ashamed of something that wasn't his fault, what were his last thoughts, I'll never know, if only......if only.............IT'S JUST NOT FAIR!!

The details of a young man taking his own life, who found him, how he was found, become a visual singed into my psyche forever.

So many other words pour out letting loose a year of guilt and anger for something that never should have happened to anyone.

By this time, everyone is in tears. Her pain is exposed, raw and contagious. There is nothing worse. Listening to Monica, it's as if we all lost a son.

TGD leans foward to Monica and gently guides her through this path of mourning. No platitudes, no patronizing, just tender mercies, explaining to Monica that we are here to listen and take the blame away from her that she has been burdening herself with. TGD explains that the perpetrator has a ripple effect. It's like dominoes crashing down, one right after the other. The perpetrator and only the perpetrator are to blame. The blame or the shame does not belong to Monica.

The perpetrator ignites one fire and then stands back and fans the flame.

to be continued..........

19 Comments:

Anonymous Maddy said...

So I formally grant you forgiveness for the huge gap in your postings.

With that kind of burden to carry I can't imagine how long it takes to translate life experience into words.

I'm so glad to hear that gradually the load is getting lighter.
Best wishes

5:46 PM  
Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

No one with as much empathy as you could be described as self absorbed, Suzy.

Love.

7:46 PM  
Blogger s@bd said...

i love tgd.
she's just so right.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Casdok said...

There was a tear in my eye to. Strong words.

3:34 AM  
Blogger dgibbs said...

So glad TGD didn't let you hide. Just for the record I don't believe you to be self absorbed at all, maybe self conscious "I am not the person to follow guys, trust me!"

Great post as always.


xoxo

8:26 AM  
Blogger Carrie Wilson Link said...

The soft lighting from the huge globe lamps hanging from the ceiling and the art adorned brick walls almost gives the room the auora for any kind of group meeting for writers, book club or any other collection of people gathering for pleasure. Pleasure is something I don't acquaint with this room. The stories these walls could tell would set this renovated firehouse on fire itself.


It's so much safer that way. Remove myself mentally and pretend I'm part of the group. The wall I had so cleverly built to keep everyone at a distance was being threatened by joining this group. TGD was way too smart to let me continue to hide. This was going to be a problem.

Love this writing, this posting, and YOU!

10:15 AM  
Blogger kario said...

Wow, Suze! I'm really shaken by the parallels between this post and my own. I was so lucky to be sitting in Deb's homey kitchen peeling away the layers of shame. I bow in deference to you yet again for your courage in going back to that firehouse. Damn, you're good

Love you!

7:51 PM  
Blogger kario said...

By the way, the perpetrator bites!

just sayin'...

7:53 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

You are definitely worth waiting for, dear Suzy. I'm with Michelle - your empathy flows from the page. So much pain in that room and in your being. So much healing happening - it shows in your writing.

Lots of love!

11:24 PM  
Blogger dgibbs said...

Suzy I passed an award on to you. It is posted on my blog, so come on over. ;-)

8:51 AM  
Blogger MY OWN WOMAN said...

Suzy~

I'll say it again. Open your guts, let them pour onto the page. Just one sentence, just one line can bring such healing from inside.

You have great courage.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

The pain just pops off the page. Her pain, yours, everyone in that room... Powerful writing. Glad to see you.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Eileen said...

Breathtaking courage and compassion! Truly inspirational. This is a post that has stayed with me, ever since I read it. So powerful, so painful, yet so much hope and caring and the difficult act of beating the perpetrator down, taking away his power and reclaiming your lives.
As always, your writing is nothing short of superb.
Love.

7:42 PM  
Blogger Jerri said...

Always SO glad to see you here, Suzy. Especially with a piece like this.

You could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as self absorbed.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Terry Whitaker said...

You make us fell intensity and the lack of oxygen in those moments throughout. Amazing courage, amazingly told.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Ziji Wangmo said...

Suzy- You have such courage to be on such a path. And, you have such a following - you are a teacher and a healer. Many thanks for sharing.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Suzy, I am overcome by the power of this writing. The beauty and the empathy take my breath away, but are no surprise because they are always there in your writing. But the strength, the confidence of your voice--there is something truly incredible going on here.

And yes, look at your following!

8:01 AM  
Blogger riversgrace said...

Just emerging myself, stopped by to catch up, Suzy, and I feel like you have moved me from the back of the room to the front. The space that you need to stand apart from the experience is lessening, and that means that the intimacy and humanity and universality of the inside of the truth in the detail is opening up.

So much growth comes through the writing....and the pain. Put both together and it equals presence. Presence. That's powerful.

1:33 PM  
Blogger grammer said...

So beautifully rendered, Suze, so compassionate. You have us in the room, hearing the stories, feeling those butterflies of anxiety and dreaming up our escape routes. Yet, nobody's leaving. We're in it for the long haul, right alongside you.

Thank you for the window in. xo t

10:25 PM  

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