In my life I have learned a valuable lesson…
“Keep your eyes and ears open because you never know what surprises, good or bad, are around the corner and from where they might come.”
In today’s lesson, I heard something that struck a deep chord and of all things while watching a TV show. Today’s TV is not your mom and dads TV. By that I mean if you’re looking for brilliant insight into humanity you’re probably fishing in the wrong hole. But to my surprise I heard an insightful quote while watching the show, “Criminal Minds”.
This little nugget of introspection came from Norman Cousins, a noted American author, professor and journalist. He says:
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss in life is what dies inside of us while we live.”
Do yourself a favor and re-read it. Then read it again. And really consider what he’s saying.
I have read, re-read, mulled over and marinated in these words. And I have related them to being a victim and then survivor of childhood sexual abuse/molestation/rape. From that very first night of abuse, I died inside. The innocence of childhood, my faith in the goodness of people, my belief that I had self-worth, feeling as though I had a purpose in life, my trust in the clergy and for a long time even my belief in God, much less a God of mercy, justice and love…all of that was gone, it was gone and dead.
I would wonder, what kind of a God would or could allow such atrocities to happen to a child? I now understand, or at least hold the belief, that it isn’t my God that allows this to happen, it’s men and women with a free will who choose to commit these heinous crimes.
Right now my abuser walks free, with not so much as a blemish of a criminal record. All because of laws that protect sexual predators rather than the children’s lives and spirits they destroy. And every day I live with this pain, this loss, and even though I’ve developed tools to help me work through my own trauma, it has still killed a part of me. A part that feels rotten inside. Meanwhile this monster still has easy, open, unlimited access to little boys and at times it feels as though there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. And this boggles my mind. I wonder every day, how many other little “me’s” are being groomed for the same destruction? How many other David’s, Christopher’s and Andy’s is he building up, just to tear them down from the inside out?
And that’s when I gained some understanding of what Mr. Cousins meant when he said, “The greatest loss in life is what dies inside of us while we live.” I know all too well that feeling of being dead inside. The feeling as though my core is more like a zombie; rotting, oozing out a putrid smell of guilt, shame and self-blame that for so long I felt there was no help. I was already dead inside so I might as well do my best to finish the job Frankie started. He killed my inside so I’ll kill the outside. And as many of you know who’ve read or heard my story, I set out on a path of self-destruction via narcotics.
It wasn’t until I realized there was a reason I was being self-destructive, that I also came to understand I could begin to heal that inner side, I could even resurrect it. While it would never be the same, because wounds are wounds and they leave scars in spite of any healing that occurs. I DO have worth, and I could begin to have some semblance of a life once again.
So while I agree with Mr. Cousins, as it pertains to survivors of childhood sexual abuse, our greatest loss is what died in us while we were still alive, I also believe we can heal, there is hope, and even justice for some. But not without work; challenging, wrist-wringing, memory shaking, tear-filled, anger-filled, fist-clenching work.
It’s with these thoughts I began asking myself some questions.
1) What died inside of me?
As I mentioned before, there is a laundry list of things I felt had died: the innocence of my childhood, my faith in the goodness of people, my belief In myself and that I had worth, feeling as though I had a purpose in life, my trust in the clergy and for a long time my belief in God, believing that I was a good person. I felt as if I was dirty, filthy and used.
2) Why did it die?
Betrayal, denials of those in a position to help, lies, being treated as though you are to blame, abandoned, feeling totally and completely alone,
3) What are the consequences of the death?
Substance abuse/addiction, suicide, loss of jobs due to inability to maintain focus, inability to maintain healthy relationships, never have opportunity to have children/family, no stability, loss of sanity, DID, the list is virtually endless…
4) Who is affected by the death?
Victim, family, children, future friends, future intimate relationships, spouse, employers.
5) Where does that death lead us or leave us?
Alone, feeling powerless and incapable of moving forward or healing.
6) What does this death feel like? How do we describe it to those that haven’t been through what we have?
I think for most of us, the death is both instant and lengthy. The moment the abuse begins, the death occurs…that’s the instant part. But then comes the pain; the extended, ongoing cruel torture inside us. It’s like a long, drawn out illness, only instead of seeing a gradual decline as in a long term cancer, it’s more like having your head cut off by a guillotine that goes very slowly, making you feel every millimeter. It’s an agonizing pain that continues until the head is finally severed from the body. The only difference is we’re still alive, enduring the pain and with no relief in sight.
7) When this “death” occurs, when do we recover…do we recover? And the million dollar question…When is it “time”? When do we begin to heal?
To answer these questions I must also acknowledge some other questions we as survivors ask ourselves and ask each other. When will I start feeling better? When will I begin this healing process you talk about so much?
And to answer those questions I have to tell you a story about my most beloved dog. A Rottweiler named Chelsea who was the best dog I ever had. She was the most loving, sweetest dog and everyone loved her and she loved everyone. True story, my next door neighbor came over one day while throwing a pool party and asked if Chelsea could come over and play. Honest to God! They said I could come too, but who they really wanted was Chelsea. So I said sure and off they went…8 hours later I go over and Chelsea is still hopping in and out of the pool, playing with everyone and having a great time. So there’s your back story of this amazing dog.
As happens with all our pets, one day we learn they are not going to be with us much longer. In my case, I learned Chelsea had bone cancer. A very painful type of cancer, so I’m told, and so I asked the veterinary oncologist the same question I’m asked about recovery…when will I know “it’s time”?
In the most caring way he could verbalize he said, “because you have been with her for so long, almost her entire life, (which at this point was 10 years), only you will be the one to know when that time comes”.
I didn’t understand so I further questioned him and he said, “let me put it like this, one day you will see, one day you will know it’s time and only you will know when that times comes. I can’t describe what that day will be, but when it occurs, you will know it’s time.”
At this point, it only further frustrated me. So a few months went along and Chelsea was doing ok. She would have a moment of pain where she would yelp, but then hop right back up and all was for the most part ok.
Then came “that” morning. I woke up and noticed she wasn’t in the bed beside me or on the floor next to it. I called out for her but heard no jingle of her collar or clicking of her toenails on the tile floor. So I knew immediately something wasn’t right.
I went into the room, called out her name and as she tried to get up, she wailed in agony and fell back to the ground. She tried this two more times with equally painful cries so I ran to her side and kept her from trying to get up so she wouldn’t continue hurting herself.
There it was…just as the vet described it…the moment I knew Chelsea couldn’t handle any more pain, and to put her through anymore would be inhumane. So I made the call every dog lover hates, the one letting them know that your beloved and most faithful companion must be put to sleep. Fortunately I had an amazing vet who didn’t require me to bring Chelsea to the clinic. She and vet tech drove to my home and they did the procedure in her own home where she would feel as safe as possible.
I laid with her the entire time so she didn’t have to move around. When the vet arrived she gave me all the time I wanted, but it’s never enough. She shaved a spot on her leg, placed the IV in and let me know when I was ready, to say goodbye. And for the first time in Chelsea’s entire life she did something she’d never done…when I said ok to the vet, she let out a quiet growl directed at the Vet. It was as if to say, “dad, if you do this, I can’t protect you anymore.” It broke my heart and I cried like a baby. I gave her a kiss, and she gave me one last, big, wet slobbery one. Then, in a quiet, peaceful moment, she was gone. With no pain and without a noise.
So why did I tell you this story? Because for those of us working through the emotional struggles of CSA, the same is true…only we will know when the time is right. Only we will know when we are ready to move forward, to heal, to grow. And no one can tell you when it will happen. I know that’s not the answer anyone wants to hear, but it’s the truth.
Fortunately I have some good news to end this story. As the doctor told me, only you will know when it’s “time”. And when that “time” comes, hope and healing will follow. I promise.
“There are things in my past that have made me afraid. But I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not sure what will happen, but whatever it is, it’s better than being afraid.”
Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.
June 10, 2014 at 11:14 am
Great article, David. As survivors, we have so many losses to grieve and let go of as we go through the healing process. It is okay to grieve, get angry and to cry even. None of those things show weakness as I was taught in childhood. My anger never killed anyone as I learned constructive ways to let it out rather than holding it inside of me or letting it explode on innocents who didn’t deserve to be blasted when the volcano of emotions poured out uncontrollably. I carried so much rage inside of me that I took about 4 years to learn how to control it so that no one was hurt by it as I released it from inside of me. I am encouraged that many survivors are starting to heal years before I did today because so many of us are speaking out and letting them know that healing is possible and they are not alone or the only ones who were abused. By using our voices, we are allowing others to use theirs as well. Thank you David for this great article.
June 10, 2014 at 7:36 pm
Okay David. You got me. I’m sitting here blubbering like a baby. We have a Golden Retriever named Guinevere who just turned 10 and is having arthritis pain in her left hip. I am terrified of having to put her to sleep. It will kill me. She sleeps with us, she gardens with me, she walks with me every morning. She is so gentle that one time she came to us and opened her mouth. A baby frog was laying on her tongue. We told her to put it on the ground and she did. Another time she brought us a baby bird laying on her tongue and did the same thing. She is my baby. I have a friend that lost two dogs she’d had for many years within days of each other. She took to her bed for 3 days crying the whole time. Then on the 3rd day she heard her two dogs racing up and down the hallway outside her bedroom, something they had always done before. She got out of bed. So I believe that when you drop your body the first one to meet you will be Chelsea and the first one to meet me will be Guinevere. Someone said that the dogs we’ve lost guard the gates of heaven.
All of this helps me. I hope it helps you.
A word on all you have gone through. No matter how many times I read your story I am heartsick at the misery you had to go through and wish there was a law that says every perpetrator has to be locked up for life but used for cancer experiments. I so much believe that you (and I and all of our other friends on FB that have been through this) were sent here on a mission. God said, “I need to have you be one of our generals in the war on child sexual abuse. But you will have to be a victim first so that you can know what these children have gone through.” And so you and I will put our pain away, taking it out now and then to make a point and we have dedicated our life to making a difference………and we are….making a difference. Never forget that my friend. Your pain has become the cross that others follow so they will know they are not alone and they can heal. Keep up the great work. hugs, margie
June 10, 2014 at 9:54 pm
…I can’t even begin to properly express my gratitude for the kind words you wrote. But first let me say I’m so very sorry about Guinevere. As you read, my Chelsea was everything to me. And like your Guinevere, she was by my side from the moment I got her, at 10 weeks, until the last day of her life…so I know exactly the pain you’re going through. Please know I’ll be praying for both of you. And I couldn’t agree more about them meeting us one day when we return to our heavenly home 🙂
And I also think you’re right about us having to endure what we did so that we could one day help those in need. I struggled with that for a long a time. I wondered what kind of a God would require this…then I remembered what he required of His own son…and we are no different. In fact, we are His children, so that’s when I finally understood. And you have reminded me of this. Thank you.
Thank you for always being an encouragement, for always being uplifting, and for always being a true friend since the day we “met” online. And I will always be here for you. Please know that.
June 11, 2014 at 12:15 pm
sounding like an epilogue, it is painful to read (springing tears) and must have been even more painful to write, many words etched excruciatingly
i reflect on the luxury of: sobriety, awareness, sharing (forgive me) and the bliss of repression . . . the power of vulnerability and hope hope for acceptance of all that has been, is, and still to come.
. . . and of how much light you shine on the path for exposing repressed pain and emotional death surrounding CSA while pressing on beyond shame and silence.
and while you speak of and for yourself you write for so many voiceless others who likely feel the same death but may either not be in touch with it, lack words, willingness or skill to share and therefore further enlighten.
while we sometimes have a blind spot about the value of our own advocacy others can see a glimmer of hope that because of these voices (crying in the wilderness) – ultimately :
– perpetuators will be held responsible for their crimes regardless of time lapse, relationship to abuser or status in society
– the general public will have deeper insight and awareness about the ramifications and complex nature of CSA
– early intervention strategies could be developed and implemented to reduce incidences in future
– assessment for childhood trauma will primarily illuminate mental health and substance abusing assessment procedures, treatment and on-going care
– government policies that continue, today, to enable such criminals to perpetuate these criminal acts will crumble
respectfully submitted with no intention to cause hurt feelings to anyone.
June 12, 2014 at 1:52 pm
Dave, I must say thank you for what you do and whom you have become! I watch Criminal Minds regularly and always pay attention for the quotes. Either I haven’t seen that episode, or it wasn’t meant for me to hear at the time. It and your words has resonated with the reality of my being. I Am Alive! #ShoutOutWithLove Dawn 🙂
June 13, 2014 at 9:46 pm
He killed my inside so I’ll kill the outside. This describes me so well. I always said i feel dead inside, but never realized i was finishing the job!
June 14, 2014 at 5:21 am
wow! clarify your other affirmations and hear what they are say to you
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June 23, 2014 at 9:31 pm
Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
Surviving abuse and healing from the past……