When I was a child, my grandmother used to say that my brother was a good boy but that I was “a rebel”.
I have felt horrible about this for many years. My grandmother passed away when I was six years old. In truth, I got bored and when I got bored, I got into trouble. There’s only so long that you can try to color within the lines before something else grabs your attention and it becomes a game to wait for your grandfather to take his eyes off you long enough to go to the bathroom so you can sneak next door to play with the kid over there.
I felt horrible about being a rebel. I wanted to be the good girl. Although being good seemed to be an awful lot like having no fun. And having no fun meant being bored. Endless loop. And there seemed to be an endless amount of time where I was meant to sit quietly while the grown-ups talked or played quietly with nothing to do and nobody my age to do it with but just behave so the grown-ups could talk and occasionally ask me how was school so I could smile and say “fine”. The rebel lay silent within.
Until the time came when I didn’t want to be good anymore. I didn’t want to be bad either. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be. We lived in a time where kids’ feelings didn’t matter much. You ate what was on your plate. You had to share the one phone in the house. Everybody else’s mother knew who you were and every adult had authority over you. I told my son once that I don’t think I learned how to lie until I was in my teens. There was no point. Everybody knew the truth anyway and it was stressful having to keep count of things for confession.
But that changed quickly once I got into high school. I’ve said before, my guidelines to my teens and boys was a antiquated Catholic guide to sin and my brother and my best friend telling all of us kids what sex was all about. But the thing is….nobody ever really tells you anything. You go in with the notion of “don’t do anything” and “everything is sinful” and that is what you have to work with. On the other hand, on one of my first high school dates, I was given a list from one to ten by my date and asked how far I had gotten. It was at that point I began to realize that there was a lot more to love than just heartache and sad songs. They wanted a score sheet. And your score determined if you were to be considered a prude or a slut. And this was important stuff. Nobody wanted to be either.
The thing is, on the one hand, you are told to do nothing. But nothing doesn’t make you very popular. And then you have an older brother who tells you what is “expected” of you. This is what guys expect. So as a young girl/woman, you learn that sex is something that has nothing to do with how you feel. It has everything to do with what is expected of you, what people know about you, what someone can say about you, what someone else wants, and what you can provide.
But nobody….not the church, not your school, not your parents, not the media who says you must be beautiful, not the guy you’re with who is not really thinking about your well being or happiness….nobody is there to tell you that it is okay for you to think or to feel or to like anything or even to feel good. Sex is something you give away to someone. It is something you do only to make others happy for doing or proud of you for not doing or to make grandkids. Your body is something that functions independently of you. It changes whether you are ready or not. You should not really acknowledge it or anything it does or feels because that is wrong.
And honestly, it was a really long time before I realized that I was supposed to expect something back. I mean, seriously…more than just….that was….nice. Because nobody really talked about women enjoying sex. Not really. Well, my friend did but I figured that was because she was perhaps slightly “nympho”, which I say lovingly but we still stuck people in categories. Another wonderful term for a woman. But true, right? Only “nymphos” actually like sex. Isn’t that what we all thought back in the day? Isn’t that still the joke today? And nobody wanted to have that label either. You could fool around but you were supposed to stay within the pre-set boundaries.
Now I’m not saying that I have just come out of the dark. I realize things have changed. But I am saying that we are still working on that old pat on the back for the son versus the whispers of “slut” behind the daughter’s back.
And why is this so important? Because one of the things that keeps us so ashamed of who we are and what we have done and what has been done to us is because we haven’t been told that we own our own bodies and we are allowed to enjoy sex without the fear of being excommunicated, beat up by insecure partners, killed by people trying to own and control us, maimed and disfigured so we don’t have any pleasure, feeling the need to have another person in your life in order to feel complete and whole, being afraid to say what we need or want, or slut-shamed and doubted when we have been violated.
That rebel inside of me was there when the priest told me to “get over it” and “just do it” and when he told me how shy the bishop was and how he got over it which seemed like a strange thing to say at the time and I swear I was two seconds away from telling him to ask the bishop to take care of him…..but I didn’t. Because that would have been disrespectful.
And what was it that he wanted? After all of the games and threats and angry outbursts? And why is it so damn hard to talk about? To actually say? It was not my fault. I am not the one who should be ashamed. It has taken me almost five years to say the words. He wanted a blow job. There, I said it. Lovely. Why was that so hard to say? Because he is a priest and you don’t say things like….I’m sorry father, but I will not be including literally sucking up to you in my “other duties as assigned”. It’s hard to say because for many people it is a trigger. It’s not just words. But words can be powerful and hold so many emotions.
It’s hard to say because sex is so personal. It is the loss of all boundaries. And it can feel loving, or it can feel like an obligation, or it can feel detrimental and destructive.
And there is the difference of choosing to give up boundaries for whatever reason, having boundaries removed without your consent, or feeling the need to relinquish boundaries, exposing the vulnerable self inside, upon demand or desperation.
But why does the actions of someone else make us feel so ashamed and afraid? Is it because we cannot determine the separation of boundaries because ours were taken from us?
I know that one survivor said that seeing a picture of her rapist priest awakened old feelings of the connection she felt they had shared. I don’t feel that personally when I see a picture of my old boss. I don’t feel any connection. What I do feel is fear and disgust. I know that I don’t want to see him in person because I don’t want that interaction. I feel strong right now and I’m just really beginning to be able to talk about the more difficult parts of what happened in a way that I don’t hate myself in doing so. I don’t want to backslide. It has nothing to do with him. He is insignificant. It is my feelings that are important.
Someone said to me….I doubt he read your book because he would be upset. I said that I believe he has read my book as I know that the bishop has a copy and he said that a copy would be put in his file and I know that the bishop would have discussed my coming forward with him so, yeah. What do I think he thinks? I think he’s thrilled. Someone wrote a book about him. Wow. That plus someone gave me one star with no review so that is a childish means of revenge. Narcissistic temper tantrum.
But enough about him. The abusers aren’t important, okay? I want to get back to being a bit of a rebel. Buried deep within my own need to please and to be a good girl, she still exists, this rebel. And I no longer believe that is a bad thing. I think perhaps my grandmother who came here to America alone at the age of 16 may have seen a spark in me that she acknowledged as a bit of strength.
And right now, that rebel wants to get angry and ask why it is that a victim has to be a virgin or has to be beaten or forcibly raped or in a state of immobility or dementia in order to be considered a legitimate victim of a sexual crime? Who decides these parameters? Why is it that a survivor can be seen as less credible if there are no visible signs of abuse? Why is it that a person is not free to explore their own feelings of sexuality without being labeled? Why do we allow the church to screw with our heads when it comes to living our lives? Why do they slap us down with feelings of righteousness and standards we can never meet? That they can never meet? Why do they send out a ripple of disdain throughout the congregation? Why are we still living in a society where men do not need to be responsible for their sexual actions but women are held responsible for what men do? Why does a woman have the responsibility but not the ownership or the power? Why do women have to defend their decisions and carry a symbol of purity or shame?
I know it is not just women who carry the shame of abuse. And I’m not going to say that it was any easier for me as a mom to talk to my sons about sex when they were teens. But I did give them condoms in their stockings at Christmas. When they were older teens. I know that may sound weird but we were just beginning to be able to treat AIDS at the end of the 80’s (I had worked in a hospital during that time) and my oldest son had a child with someone when he had just turned 16. I didn’t feel like I was saying “Go ahead”. It was more like I was saying “I love you, take care of yourself and others”.
But again, I’m still reminded of how people we worked with approached me to ask why Father Jade (again not his real name) was all of a sudden not going to a retreat and why something seemed a bit off with him. They were suspicious of me, but when asked if they had noticed anything unusual….the other priests said they had not noticed anything.
I think that in order for a change to begin, it really needs to begin within ourselves. As difficult as it may be, remember that if you had feelings for your abuser, it was because they showed you who you wanted to see and who they felt you needed and would respond to. That person never existed. And they never thought you were special in any way….spiritually or romantically…..and they don’t care what happened to you after you were discarded. So don’t be ashamed to admit that you believed they were good or that they cared.
Remember too that most narcissistic abusers pick intelligent, caring, attractive people. To be able to bring down someone who they see as actually better than themselves builds them up. So remember that they may have made you feel like you were worthless but, again, it is not their feelings that are important.
I’d love to see the day when women stop being labeled like they are going into egg cartons for purchase. And when women themselves don’t judge themselves or others as far as how worthy they are or how respected they should be.
But first of all, be proud of yourself. Don’t judge yourself. And don’t let anyone else judge you either. Be a bit of a rebel.
I’m having a bit of trouble with the survey this week….seems they’ve changed the format again so I have to figure that out. Maybe next week…..Take care all.
So instead of the survey, I will delight you with some trivia……this year so far, these are the top ten countries that visit this blog: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Japan, China, and France.
One thought on “Set Fire to the Rain”
Thank you. Again, nodding in painful recognition.