One way we continue outreach for our documentary, Boys and Men Healing from childhood sexual abuse, is to engage our audience by offering blogs written by leaders in the field related to the film’s topic.
Today, we welcome our guest blogger, Mikele Rauch. Since 1983, Mikele Rauch has worked with men and women survivors of sexual, religious, ritual and physical abuse. In addition to her work as a therapist, Mikele has also been a facilitator of MaleSurvivor.org Weekends of Recovery team since its inception in 2001. In partnership with MaleSurvivor, she is Founding Chair of Taking Back Ourselves Weekends of Recovery, for women who are survivors of sexual abuse and assault to create community, hope, joy—and more life. She is the author of Healing the Soul after Religious Abuse: The Dark Heaven of Recovery. She lives, works and does her art near Boston, Massachusetts.
Not knowing when the dawn will come
I open every door.
It appears that we humans are dupes of programming. Evolution plods along, yet often we are just puppets of repetition.
There are actions and reactions that were once necessary for survival, even if we no longer need them. The templates mapped out by our experiences often shape our sense of self. These experiences become pieces of our personal stories. They are embedded inside the hard drive of our human machine, below any words that could describe them. And despite small gains in intellectual acuity and technological prowess, the more primitive instincts still prevail, especially in moments of severe danger or stress.
For survivors of the horror of sexual abuse, these wordless narratives can easily go to a dark space. The seething and simmering from the trauma become our default positions when we are overwhelmed, exhausted or activated. We may repeat the same self-destructive behaviors, stick with familiar but terrible relationships, and engage with those old demons inside our brains, over and over again. Shame or fear, the ghosts of self-loathing or self-doubt, perhaps even the sound of our own name can suck us back into a black hole at the center of our core. The triggers and old stories recreate a mis-identity. They can define us in the shape of our violations instead of who we truly are. They may be the IT that addiction or even dissociation try to cover.
The self-blaming emptiness that we feel actually belongs to the negative event or person that betrayed us in the first place. We may know this intellectually, but often our bodies or our younger selves tell us otherwise. And, despite talk therapy, self-help groups, meditation, and commitment to health, support and sobriety—this may still be the pothole where we sink into the mud.
We try to remember all we’ve been told.
We try to hold on to all we’ve learned.
We cling to twigs of affirmations and recovery slogans but they seem to slip from our grasp. A smell, a comment, a photo or a phrase can besiege us with the lies of the past.
You are a fuck up…
It’s your fault…
Nobody loves you like I did (perpetrator)
You don’t matter…
You are all alone in this…
At moments when the lie is winning, we can’t be talked down. In fact, sometimes all we want is to be free enough to embrace what we may believe at the moment…“All I wish is that someone would just let me express this, not try to talk me out of it…All I want is to be allowed to BE it.”
… Perhaps this is the door that moves the unmovable: to be able to have the lie have its moment.
But along with the lie, I have witnessed another particular portal that survivors travel through to the other half of the story—the truth:
You are lovable.
You are not alone.
It does not happen with clever words or affirmations. It is rarely reconfigured simply by behavior modification, analysis, or self help books. It happens when we allow the unbearable or even the unthinkable to be heard and ourselves to be seen…by another who is safe.
For me, therapy demands an acute recognition of boundaries and the dangerous pull of grandiosity that is the shadow of any meaningful exchange. What happens here is truly sacred; the journey is long, humbling and profound. It requires something that survivors cannot always find within themselves alone—until they experience it unconditionally and safely in the relationship with another:
I’d even venture to use another misunderstood word: Love.
Compassion and love—words that have been downsized from the original power of their definitions because of misuse. But there they are.
The definition of compassion is to suffer with. It is not pity or histrionic sympathy. This thing is honest—respectful, deeply resonant, full of good humor, kind. It does not diminish or embellish the person who is in pain, but reflects the real essence back, even in its messiness or dis-ease. It cannot change our story, but it can definitely transform what happens next.
The definition of love is not so simple, especially in words. And of course, this is where a lot of the trouble started—in the misdefinition of love, especially around sex.
Kinship, deep regard, tenderness—none of these do justice to what this thing is until we actually receive it in its truth, with no conditions. It is in the essence of the therapeutic relationship, and it is in the potency of safe community.
Loving compassion—when it is experienced anew, may not even feel like an emotion we recognize from past associations. Perhaps, this thing called loving compassion will have to begin as a vague intention to direct back to ourselves, until later, when we are moved by its true power.
I believe that this is the portal into the dark place beneath words, the key to unlocking the trances of the past and rewriting the script of our lives.
Moving it out and letting it in.
I touch the sore bone an inch above my heart and remember this.