Monday, April 07, 2008

Of Stewardship and Legacy Part One

"I thought a lot about what the stewardship of pain means; the ways in which we deal with pain. Beside being a steward of it, there are alternatives. The most tempting is to forget it, to hide it, to cover it over, to pretend it never happened, because it is too hard to deal with. It is too unsettling to remember.

I think the world is always asking us to do it that way. Our families are always, in a way, part of the family system and so apt to say, "Don't talk about things that cause pain. You can't trust the world with those secrets. Those are family secrets. Keep them hidden. Keep them hidden from each other. Keep them hidden from yourself. Don't allow yourself to feel them." ~
Frederick Buechner (ht to Mich)
Twenty years ago I sat across the table from a friend and broke the silence and secrecy around the abuse I experienced as a child. Physical, emotional, verbal, sexual. In the telling I had a moment of utter clarity where I realized if I didn't change, my then 3 year old daughter was going to sit across the table from someone one day and tell nearly the same story. Utter panic. Utter despair. That's how I felt when that moment of insight flashed through me. By my daughter's tender age I had already heaped physical, emotional and verbal abuse on her and her one year old brother. The newborn in my arms was yet unscathed. It was that moment of clarity, combined with my inability to change on my own strength, that eventually led me straight to the arms of God. The few months between that clarity and my surrender were a living hell.

I can trace my motivation to change back to the day I broke the silence. I so hope to leave a legacy of healing for my children and their children. I hope to see the generational cycles of addiction, abuse and silence broken. This is what motivates me to continue to do whatever I must in order to heal and therefore make the path easier for those who come after me. I don't always like doing the work. In reality I rarely do. But I do like being able to look in the mirror and like what I see. I don't miss the cloak of guilt, shame and self hatred that I used to wear 24/7. And so, no matter how painful the journey, I continue to embrace it. Even though I sometimes whimper, wail and protest first, I've never forgotten that moment of clarity and it still motivates me to choose healing. And while I like to think I'm paving the way for my children to heal, sometimes it happens the other way around.

Six weeks ago we traveled south to see only daughter produce and perform a one act play she'd written. A play about breaking the silence. About telling secrets. About showing what happens when secrets stay hidden and how they can unintentionally harm others. She chose to send me a copy of the script, a way of preparing me for what was to come. That she sent it after I'd been to treatment was a godsend. I read it and thought, "Yep, that's the way it was. Not pretty, but the truth." The play dealt with the warped messages about sexuality I'd given to only daughter growing up as a result of unhealed and unspoken (to her) sexual abuse in my life.

Between that reading of the script and the play being produced I began therapy that was geared to dealing with and healing the effects of being sexually abused as a child. If you've ever tried to wash the face of a toddler who doesn't want their face washed and tries like everything to get out of your grip, that's what the therapy has felt like at times. When the truth gets revealed I want to twist and turn away from the process as much as a toddler wants to escape having a clean face.

The hardest part of the process has been the feelings. Feelings like sadness, anger, more sadness, intense anger. Fear. Insecurity. My body has shaken with memory and I've had showers of grief wash over me from head to toe. I know my feelings won't kill me but I also understand why people choose not to feel them. It's safer that way.

I went to opening night of only daughter's play knowing it could trigger a whole lot of feelings. What I couldn't predict was that in the midst of experiencing body memory and intense emotional pain I'd have a moment of clarity that would pave the way for me to tell my own story.


Anonymous said...

Wow! All I can think to say is "Thank you, Lord." ((((Hope))))

Anonymous said...

Oops, forgot to sign my name on the above comment.

Erin said...

You are a rock star, Hope!

"Stewardship of pain"... I've never heard that before, and it resonates so strongly for me. Wow. Thanks!