Sunday, March 18, 2012

I survived - prove it

Survived the family March Break visit.  Yay me.

Well, the family March Break visit wouldn't have been a problem (other than the fact that Don had to go in for more surgery mid-visit, oy!).  It's really the Mom visit I'm referring to.

In fact, it had all been going quite well.  Including, I must report, a very mature late-night conversation with my mother and sister (Don was in bed recovering from anaesthesia) about survival techniques and coping strategies, how nothing in life was ever just one person's fault, you could take responsibility for your own actions without taking the blame for the entire situation, etc.

As I tried to keep my mouth shut, it was actually my sister who brought up the idea that our childhood had been traumatic -- and Mom actually agreed with her.  I kept my jaw off the floor, mouth still closed, taking it all in with wide-eyed wonder, waiting for the arrows to start slinging, but the arrows never came.

Sounds pretty hearteningly impressive, doesn't it?  I was so very proud of this mother-I-raised, finally blossoming into maturity, away from her black-and-white ways, into seeing the bigger, open, compassionate picture.  It did my heart good.  I went to bed that night thinking "wow, what a turn-around", and looking forward to a new, open, honest, grown-up, compassionate relationship with the woman who gave birth to me.

Do you see where this is going?

Because I did not see where this was going...

The next night, our last night, I made the mistake of bringing up a comment I had read on a report card many years ago.  The report card was from my nursery school days, but I didn't read the comment until years, probably decades later.

Yes, the poop hit the fan, not because I commented on something from our traumatic childhood, but because of a passing remark I made about a comment on my nursery school report card.

"Prove it!" was my mother's reply.

Now, to understand this comment, you first need to picture the force that would have been required to Heimlich a tennis ball out of my mother's throat and have it tear through my body and hit the opposite wall.  This is the force with which "Prove it!" was (and usually is) spat out.

Secondly, you have to understand my own personal history with "Prove it!"

"Prove it!" was similarly spat out over the years any time I noticed something I wasn't supposed to, or remembered something they didn't want me to remember.  It basically implied that, unless I could produce incontrovertible proof of my statement that very second, I would be reduced to the kid in the tin-foil hat who was hysterically shrieking that the sky was falling, and nothing I said from that point on would be even remotely believable.

When you're a kid whose sky IS falling, this type of rebuke is simply devastating.  You make sure you only say things that can be easily proven -- although when you live with people who claim that the sky is green and the grass is blue, there's not much that IS easily proven...

This is also the reason, or at least part of the reason, why I became such a packrat.  You never know when you'll need to "prove it".

While this tendency drives my husband nuts and makes for a very over-stuffed basement, it has also served me well over the years -- not just in "proving it" to the people who would like to declare me insane for believing and speaking my truth, but in keeping me centred and sure of my own sanity during the times when my family (and others) fought to convince me that black was white and up was down.  In more recent years, it helped keep my abusive ex-husband from coming back into the country to stalk me again in real life (as opposed to just cyber-life -- hello, asshole, hope you're enjoying the read!), and helped me fight a legal battle against my original abusers' co-conspirator (my word against yours -- really?  Here's your handwriting from 1983, sucker -- yes, I've kept everything the last 30 years, your client taught me well.).

When you've grown up with and previously married a bunch of gaslighters and crazy-makers, you learn to gather all the incontrovertible proof you can.

Sadly, on that day I read my report card from nursery school, I never considered it was something I would later need to "prove".  If I had any inkling, I would have probably found a way to sneak it out of my mother's house, or at least make a copy for myself.  But it really didn't seem like that big of a deal at the time.

Well, that's not completely true.  It did give me an "aha!" moment, but... it didn't really seem like something anybody would freak out about a few decades later.  The teacher's comment was that I was very quiet, disliked speaking up, seemed overwhelmed making decisions and in group activities, and did not mix well with other children, preferring to be by myself -- there was some concern I might be mildly autistic.  I clearly remember reading this and thinking "of course I was overwhelmed, look what was going on in my life already!"  And then wondering why nobody investigated this idea any closer -- if they had bothered looking into why I was terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing, or of being with other people, maybe they would have discovered what was really going on?  (Of course, realistic Lyssy understands that they probably wouldn't have figured it all out, especially without "proof" or even a name for it at the time, but it's a nice fantasy every once in a while...)

Of course, Thursday night, this wasn't even the context of my mentioning the report card comment.  So I still don't understand the tennis ball that got lobbed into my gut.  I had quipped about it in the context of people not understanding introverts -- no danger, no blame, no icky stuff.  At least I thought...  Apparently, it hit some sort of unforeseen nerve, though.  And I was flattened.  So much so that yesterday I dug through the boxes in the basement, on the off-chance that I had stolen the report card those many years ago... no such luck.

And so, I am now stuck with trying to convince myself I'm not crazy.  That I haven't just made this memory up.  Which, as the "prove it" lob, is ridiculous -- I've always been referred to as "the elephant" of the family, and not because of the creases under my arse, thank you very much.  I remember things.  I am the walking encyclopaedia of piddly little useless facts.  When people can't remember someone's name from our old church, or a birthday, or someone's favourite sweater from 1976 or where we used to store the sewing patterns or whatever, they ask me.  I remember things.  Perhaps it's a genetic gift, but I've also trained my brain to remember things, anything that might be needed later, for whatever stupid reason.

Why, then, do they (and I) call my memories into doubt when somebody doesn't want me to have that memory?  Why do I NEED to have swiped a piece of paper from my mother's house in order to fully believe that piece of paper ever existed?  Or for others to believe that I read it?

"Prove it" has haunted me since those nursery-school days of being terrified of saying the wrong thing or making myself unbelievable.  I know this.  And yet...

To those who need me to "prove it", the proof is probably never going to be enough, anyhow.  If I had been able to produce that piece of paper the other day, I would probably then have had to prove it was original, or gotten lost in an argument over why I had taken it in the first place, thus burying the proof under a mountain of "your trust issues" (!).  And who knows, maybe I didn't actually write my diaries in the 1980s, but waited until last year to forge kid-style writing and falsely age the pages to try and prove my idiotic, faulty memory...

Part of me wants to just toss away all the boxes and be done with it all.  The other part knows, though, that as long as there is an older generation alive that will fight like gangbusters to cover up the truth, those boxes are there to remind me that *I'm* not the crazy one.

I was talking with my friend Ali (head of the York Region Abuse Program) a couple of weeks ago about this new project of mine (yes, Lisa, I'll let you know what it is soon!).  In this discussion, we came back to the idea that the sexual abuse, while horrendous, is far easier to recover from if the child gets a positive, supportive reaction upon disclosure -- if not, the neglect and abuse of those other caregivers is often more harmful than the original abuse.

I, my over-stuffed filing cabinets, cluttered basement and spider-webbed elephant-never-forgets brain seem to be "proof" of that.

I've been "over" the sexual abuse for quite some time.  I have an awesome, healthy sex life, with no strange hang-ups or fears.  There is no surface or subliminal association between my adult sexuality and my childhood sexual abuse.

Oh, how I wish my brain had the same story to tell...  It's STILL playing stupid brain tricks -- shutting me down, discrediting me, telling me I'm not important or worthy, keeping me quiet (well, trying!) and "in my place."  Decades later, this is still a constant battle -- partially with that older generation, but mostly because I've internalized all the messages I was given way-back-when, and now tell them to myself.

I can't help but fantasize: IF ONLY there had been an adult version of Ali back then, who could have said "hey, kid, those people are nuts -- what's happened to you is awful and you deserve better."

That's all a kid needs.  Someone to say "what's happened to you is awful and you deserve better."

I can't remember the statistics off the top of my head, but I'm sure Ali could quote them to you -- the kids who are told these things are (approximately) a gazillion times more likely to grow up and live minimally-neurotic, healthy lives.  They don't have to fight the "brain clouds" when their crazy-makers tell them the sky is green and the grass is blue.  They don't continuously hook up with abusive partners until their heads crash through to below rock bottom.  They don't have to do battle with and/or keep vigilant watch against addictions and other self-abusive behaviour.  They've never had to flatten themselves against the back wall of the subway platform "just in case".  They don't have to question every single thought, action and motivation to make sure they're being true to themselves and not just reverting to neurotic knee-jerk patterns.

ALL IT TAKES for abused kids to grow up and lead relatively normal lives is for ONE PERSON to say "geez kid, that sucks, you deserve better."


We all need to be that person.  If we could all be that one person, Ali would have to find a new job -- what a beautiful tragedy that would be!  (Sadly, doesn't look like that will happen any time soon -- her waiting lists are growing exponentially, because people are STILL trying to keep child abuse quiet.  See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.  Thank god for the Theo Fleurys and Sheldon Kennedys of this world -- true heroes for speaking up and putting a public face to this usually-silent crime.)

Be that person.

If someone discloses abuse to you, be they child or adult -- for crap's sake, LISTEN TO THEM.  Believe them.  Help them.  Don't demand proof -- the tone of their voice, their body language, their eye language will be all the proof you need.

Listen.  Believe.  Help.  Their future partners, basements and moving crews will thank you for it.

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