THE MARTIN ARNOLD KRUZE MEMORIAL FORUM WAS HELD AT: Maple Leaf Gardens, September 27 and 28, 1998 .My Journey Through Healing
Transcript of address by Ruth participant Survivor Monument Project Quilt Square Workshops.
Here I am, wondering what has brought me to this point in my life. Who am I to put before you an account of my journey? What is there that may be unique, different, or even of value? There may well be nothing out of the ordinary, that is, if you consider living a life with various forms of abuse ordinary. What I have to say is not for dispute, nor am I here to entertain you. I give to you a personal sharing of what living my life has been like to me.
Many questions have come to mind as to how and where to begin. Do I start with the present and then back track, or do I start at the beginning and go in chronological order? Either way it is easy to leave out major portions of surviving years. So, let me start with what I have always known and go from there.
My history began at birth in May of 1949 to a family of three older siblings and two parents living in Northern Indiana. There were cultural differences that were taught to us in many subtle ways and today I see them more as prejudices than cultural beliefs. I have always been keenly aware of being taunted, tormented, and even tortured by my two older brothers and when verbalizing my pains to my mother I was told to quit my complaining, or to realize that they were only doing it to hear me holler. Either way it was plain that the problem was mine and my fault. My older sister was often physically abusive to me and I learned early not to fight back, it just made her more vicious. By the time I started elementary school I knew there was an "in the home life", a "church life", and an "out in the community life". So, I figured there must be an "at school life" and quickly learned how to develop one.
My parents professed the Christian beliefs and we were a regular church attending family. Both my parents were heavily involved in the U.S. Scouting movement and in the church. In the community my dad was well liked, respected and even honored on various occasions. A carpenter by trade, my dad was gone most nights of the week after working long hours during the day. But, when at home, he was often a different person than what those in the community saw. Either there were jokes and laughter or terror from his explosive episodes. That left my mother to discipline four children in an atmosphere where men were of value and females were there to serve the males. I lived in fear of my dad and his unpredictability; and with enmeshed ties to my mother, desperately needing her approval.
When dating in my mid-teen years with Jay, who became my husband, I was able to tell him openly that I was not a virgin because my brothers and their friends had sex with me whenever it suited them. That was a matter fact way of life for me. I thought it was normal for brothers to treat their sisters that way. Once I was married, assuming my husband had similar experiences, I began to question him about what he did to his sister. When he said he had done none of the sexual games, exploitation, or other activities, I began to question what was normal.
By the time I was twenty-two, I was married, a mother of three and suicidal. The diagnosis at the time was that I needed to learn how to communicate better with my husband. We entered counseling and two or three sessions later I was "cured". I devoted my life to my children and husband and became involved in the life of the church. When bouts of depression came upon me I was often told I was doing too much and to rest. No matter what the symptom I, or my body presented, there was always a quick fix or a pat answer for the "problem".
In the fall of 1974, Jay and I, along with our children, immigrated to Canada. We were hired to be parents in a home for delinquent/emotionally disturbed boys. I strongly believed in what I was doing and often found myself saying to those around me that it was important for me to provide a safe place for them to live. For the next 12 years we nurtured and loved up to 9 children at a time. When the depression would rear its ugly head, I would work harder to get through it. We would have times that would challenge us beyond our experiences and expertise, which would always be accompanied by further training, marriage enrichment weekends, social worker and psychologist support. My connection with my birth family was minimal and although I greatly missed my mother, I liked being as far away as we were.
It was during these years that I risked telling a medical doctor, a psychologist, and a minister at different times about the sexual experiences I had with my brothers and their friends and how it troubled me. Their respective responses were, "Have you forgiven yourself?", "How much did you like it?", and "Let go of the past and get on with your life!". These responses reinforced to me my early childhood messages to quit my complaining, that it was my fault, my problem.
The result of pushing psychological garbage so far back that you don't think about it is something has to give somewhere and the physical self is what is left. I had been through gynecological surgery several times and was facing more. So, we left the pressures of the group home for a quieter family home with only two foster children. My entire life up to 1992 could be wrapped up in one compound word, "selfless". I had become a compulsively organized perfectionist. There is no use telling any more historical details because they are much the same. College and university training, marital counseling, church activities, community involvement, social and school activities with our children, work in social services, etc. All looked well on the outside except for the health break downs that seemed to plague me. And all the time I kept telling myself and others that I did what I was doing so other children would have a safe secure place to live with people who cared about them.
When a special uncle to me died I found myself grieved beyond the loss of this person. I worked myself into a non-stop frenzy that lasted for several days until my husband confronted me. It was then that I found myself telling him that my uncle was safe to be with and it was as if my safety had died. I was encourage to tell my parents about how I felt and I also needed to travel to Indiana to bring closure to my relationship with my uncle. So, I told my parents about knowing that as a child I had been sexually abused, would not tell them who I remembered it to be, and that my uncle had been a safe person to be with. This disclosure brought the comment from my dad that, "Some men have trouble controlling their natural urges". I thought nothing of this remark at the time.
In 1988 Jay and I opened a home for homeless teens. It was in this setting in the fall of '92 that I found myself faced with counseling a female resident involved in an abusive relationship. Just when it seemed she was getting strong enough to end the relationship, the parents of her boy friend, their son, and our resident arrived at our home unannounced and packed her belongings and moved her out. I was home alone at the time and felt as though her life and mine were threatened. I did what I had to do to cover the legalities of her leaving our home and to assure she left safely. After the incident was over, I couldn't stop crying for two or three days and nights. Every time I envisioned those people in front of me I trembled uncontrollably and became very disoriented. I called a mental health facility to help me through the crisis and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome. I was able to say how terrified I was. But the reaction seemed way out of proportion to the actual events. That is when I risked one more time telling about the sexual games with my brothers. This time someone believed in me and began asking questions that allowed me to talk more freely about the life I thought was normal but had great pains over. I tried to talk with my sister about what was happening to me and she responded with, "I'd never do that to Mom and Dad". When questioning her what she meant she said, "Ruthie, it was Dad!". I fought this notion for a long time and eventually discarded it to the recesses of my mind.
The writings in my journals from this point on reveals total disorganization, disorientation, and a falling into the very depths of despair. Having the opportunity to tell what I remembered opened up more and more memories. It was a flooding of terror, hatred, torture and self destruction. The depression set in so strong that I could not function with normal daily self care. My whole world had been turned inside out and I was in the black pit of self hatred.
Why have I given you all the "nice" background view of my birth/work history? It's important that you clearly understand how the evil of abuse seeps through all social, cultural, religious, and economic strata. What appears to be a well adjusted family to the community may be the living hell for some of those family members in private. Make no mistake, I am not saying all scout leaders, or all church goers are perpetrators of abuse. But what I want you to hear is that looks are deceiving and you have to listen to the children to know there is pain.
All the "niceness" in my life has been a lie; a protection from the reality of pain, fear, and the grief I lived with daily. Having someone listen to me, believe in me, encourage me to feel the hurts, and to express verbally anything and everything without censoring or judging has been a true gift of life. I have come to realize surviving day by day, moment by moment is not living.
What had been hidden behind the facade of selflessness is a child within me, holding the memories of incest, rape, torture and terror. As with any wound, it must be opened up and cleaned thoroughly from all poison before healing can take place. That opening up is felt to be as painful or even more so than the initial wound. The flooding of my memories magnified the self hatred and need for escape. Suicide often seemed the only viable alternative to feeling the pain of reality. I argued with myself and those around me that I came from a loving, caring family and I must be lying just to get attention. But when asked why I would do that I had no answer, for deep down in the truth of my soul I could not deny the pain of body memories nor the visual images in my mind's eye that showed me places and people. I had a whole arsenal of defense tactics to avoid the truth of the neglect and abandonment I have felt all my life. For about three years after that fateful day in '92, I was swallowed up in darkness. I saw no way out of the despair that held such a grip on me that death appealed to me. I thought it would be a welcomed release and a saving grace for those around me. I lost time, I found myself in place without realizing how I had gotten there, and had very little concept of dates or time. Medications were used for a short period of time to help with the depression and then I had to begin to learn how to cope in the reality of my pain.
When I had begun to stabilize enough to know what a feeling is, and where the source of my depression came from, I needed to confront my parents on how I felt neglected by them and to tell them about my brothers and their friends. At this confrontation my parents were dead silent while I was speaking and when I had finished they treated what I had disclosed as if I had said nothing. It was a non issue and I was (my feelings were) of no value. It didn't strike me as anything out of the ordinary until I returned to my support group. Then I was taken by surprise at their reaction to my parents' non-reaction. It was here that I began to understand that my parents had to have known something and that they were not willing to face the truth of incest in the family. Facing this fact opened the wound a bit farther and I found myself feeling the effects of long forgotten memories. I struggled with the defense of denial wanting so much to continue to blame me for the pain I was feeling instead of placing that responsibility on the adults in my childhood world. I remembered that by night I was a pawn in a men's world of sexual activities. Whether it was being raped by boys or dogs, or tied to a bed post to be viewed, ridiculed, and photographed, it was all part of the lessons I was to learn how to survive. And, by day, I was a good little girl trying to find ways to make my mother love me and accept me.
After the confrontation I received correspondence in the mail several times from my sister and my mother that let me know how much grief I was causing the family and that I was tearing it apart. I shared these letters with my therapist and support group who, each in their own way, encouraged me to talk about how I felt regarding the letters. As I talked, my memories of fear and sadness would often overwhelm me to the point of withdrawing and isolating myself from everyone around me. This isolation wasn't just physical, it was emotional as well. I couldn't feel loved, cared for, nor respected. The shame I had was too big to get around.
A year and a half after the first confrontation I was ready to confront again. This time it was more specifically concrete memories I had of my dad and his abuse, verbally, emotionally, and sexually, and of my mother's neglect. There was no dead silence this time. I was yelled at and told I had put my parents in a difficult situation. I continued with every ounce of strength within me to stay in the present, be real with my feelings, and to share my memories. When I spoke directly to my dad about specific behaviours of his, he stood up, turned away from me, looked out a window briefly, and walked away. That's the last living memory I have of him. After he left the room, my mother asked me if there was a way to "work things out". I asked what she wanted to know and answered all her questions. When I left that day, I could hear in my head, "I was right! Yes, I was right!". But I felt more sadness wrapped in bewilderment at not having a sense of finality. Upon returning to Ontario and sharing what had transpired, I realized that I had allowed them to do it to me again. My dad walked out as if I, my memories, and my feelings were not important and my mother had directed her questions in terms of how wrong I was not to tell, or that she didn't remember me telling, or that this was my problem and she had no part in it. She never said a word to my dad, nor to me about him. There was no recognition of me or my pain, only her innocence and her deflecting my confronting of her neglect away from the topic.
That confrontation was in May of 1996 and I spent the summer in therapy struggling with the wound opening deeper to realize that my parents knew all along what was happening and in their own respective ways participated in allowing the abuse to happen and/or to continue. My memories became clearer and more detailed in their revelations. Although I still fought with denial, more from fear of accepting the reality of truth, I began to accept that my childhood fantasies of a loving, caring family were just that, fantasies, not reality. I had wanted someone to love me, care for me, save me, so I pretended that my family did care and that if I tried hard enough, or said the right thing, or did something the right way, then maybe they would love me. Thinking that I was loved never did cover up the hollowness of not feeling loved.
At this point in my healing I had to let go of any hope. I tried to hang on but so many blatant realities stared me in the face and I could not pretend they weren't there any more. The defense system that I had been building and using for over 47 years no longer helped me and it was breaking down quickly. The noises in my head and the pain in my gut constantly reminded me that I was not loved and that I was worth nothing and there was no hope of ever making it happen. I began to feel more of my deep pain, but I still couldn't let go of the notion that everything was my fault. That notion was painfully challenged in the fall of the same year. The end of October my dad had a heart attack and I was not notified until two days later. When making arrangements for me to travel to Indiana to see him I was told by my mother not to go. I still proceeded with my arrangements. During the afternoon of November 1st I received a phone call from my sister saying our dad had a stroke. Within half an hour after that call my husband and I were on the road. We arrived at our place of staying about 10:45 p.m., there was a message to call the hospital. I called, my mother came on the line and said, "Your father expired at about 10:30 and everybody was here". No Mother! Not everybody was there! I said I would be right there and she said, "Don't come, there's no need, everyone is taking their turns with him. Your sister's taking this quite hard." I repeated, "I'll be right there". She said again, "Don't come, the undertaker has already been called, there's no need for you to be here".
Why do I tell these details? Because it took this much bold rejection for me to accept the fact that I didn't matter to them. After four years of intense therapy, I finally felt angry! I did what I had to for the next several days, returned to Ontario and began a new phase of therapy. The loss, the anger, the total hopelessness of my growing up years all flooded in to spill more poison out of my gaping soul wound. I began to focus on the double messages, the brainwashing, and the psychological mind games that had been controlling my life up to this point. I have come to realize that the physical and sexual abuse are so much easier to experience and to deal with. They are right there, no guess work, no real doubt. But the hidden messages in the mind that plague every thought, idea, hope, dream, or self evaluation are an intangible source of evil and viciousness that are next to impossible to grapple with. To always have to guess where things are at, where I fit or if I belonged, what I was to do, and to be in limbo with no sense of direction all provided no opportunity to lay a foundation of trust or belief in my self. And therefore, the inability to trust anyone else.
In May of '97 my children and grandchildren were gathered to celebrate the many birthdays that are in April and May. I was well prepared for them and we had a great time. Just when I thought all was over but the socializing, they surprised me by celebrating my birthday with cards and gifts made by them affirming how much they loved me. The outpouring of love and acceptance was so overwhelming I didn't know how to receive it but to cry. I needed to cry for the joy of their love, to cry for the feelings I was experiencing, to cry for the loss of what I thought I had, and for the love denied me while a child.
This experience brought me to the realization that I needed to confront my mother again. So, one more time I travelled to Indiana. The evil that pervades an incestuous family is quiet beguiling and deceiving. I was more real with my feelings during this confrontation than I had ever been, telling her how I felt about not feeling loved and how I needed her reassurance and protection, and , I thought I was getting an acknowledging response from my mother. But the next day she said over the phone that she was trying to figure out why I had treated her so mean. Later she wrote to my son and said I owed her an apology. I have not heard from her since.
So, here I am, a year and a half later, sharing with you my life, my pain, and my journey. It has been one filled with tears. The depression and self destruction is lessening, the feelings of joy and happiness are counterbalancing the grief and loss. If I am to feel loved by those around me now, I must feel the loss of love from my birth family and the anger that goes with it. I believe the wound of abuse is completely opened. I have had to go deep within to purge the last of the poison. I will have scars that will forever affect me and my life. But the abuse does not have to be a controlling factor on how I live. Everything now is my choice - I can continue to believe their lies fed to me and let them control my every thought and move, or, I can see the reality of the loss and choose another way. A way filled with sorrow balanced with joy, anger balanced with love. I no longer have to be a chameleon conforming to everyone and everything around me, I can be me. My choice, not someone else's.
Why have I not told you about the many sordid details of the abuse? Because I believe that abuse in any form is as damaging to one's self concept as any other form. Be it verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological, abuse is damaging, pain is pain. I could have told you about the times I believed my life was going to be annihilated, or being hung from the rafters and whipped until I learned not to cry, or the witnessing of a murder. But then you may start comparing my experiences to your own and maybe even discredit your own wounds as unimportant, or you might get caught up in the details and miss the point of pain and the need for a defense. As I said when I began, I am not here to entertain you, but to share with you personally my journey.
I am still in weekly therapy, I am easily overwhelmed by what seems to be the slightest variance or glitch in many circumstances. I will never be the person I was born to be. But that does stop me from being all that I can be today. I am learning who "Me" is. I am learning to laugh spontaneously, and to feel the love shown me every day in so many ways. I am learning that to risk telling is to find a life of living, not just surviving.
Thank You, Ruth