What many think about but precious few mention. Including me.

chiarascuro

Magdalene With the Smoking Flame by

Georges de La Tour

Editor’s note: I actually wrote this post a few years ago but was too…I don’t know. Devastated? Confused? Chicken?…to actually publish it. I just found it again this morning, brushed it off and read it, and realized it’s time I just got over myself and put it out there for whatever it’s worth. The truth is I’ve healed so much over the last three and a half years and it’s mostly because I found a lot of other people who understand and aren’t afraid to talk about this kind of stuff and it’s amazing to meextraordinaryhow much that’s helped to normalize my life again. So, here’s passing at least some of that gift on.   Love you all.

We had dinner with Cam’s parents last night and it was a good visit. It’s coming up on two months now since he committed suicide so of course they’re having a lot of bad days and bad nights…some good moments but still mostly hard…and I admit, it was a splendid gift for us to be able to sit down and share it all with them. Shook us back awake from the swiftly creeping denial and oh-so-human stupor of taking things for granted again.

Life is a rare, luminous, and devastating gift. God help us.

Today my thoughts turn back to something I observed during the days immediately following Cam’s death, the period when we kept gathering to cling to one another at the lip of the abyss that had opened at our feet.  There were a lot of people impacted by his loss…Cam touched more lives than we had any idea…and there was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 people who attended the memorial service alone, not to mention the swarms that kept showing up at vigils, memorial events, dinners, and other spontaneous gatherings.

And I couldn’t help but notice that, while I heard everyone openly discussing Cam’s battle with depression and suicidal thoughts, only one person, a young woman, acknowledged that she had waged a battle of her own.  Which at first seemed like a good thing…the rest of us must all be safe then, no?

But then I remembered the recent surveys showing that almost four percent of adults battle clinical depression with even higher rates for teens while, in the U.S. alone, more of us now die from suicide than motor vehicle accidents.

Which is when it dawned on me that it was statistically impossible for Cam and this one other girl to be the only ones out of the thousand-plus assembling who’d ever experienced suicidal thinking. Far from it in fact. A fair number of the people I was looking at and talking to must have, at some point, toyed with the idea of taking their own lives. And there was a smaller and scarier subset of the people around me who were currently considering it.

But for some reason all of them were maintaining strict radio silence.

Actually, not for some reason. I know exactly why they weren’t saying anything. I used to think about ending my life all the time and almost did a few times…when I was nine, twenty-eight, and thirty-five years old to be exact. So of course I’m familiar with the ebb and flow of dark thoughts. But I wasn’t speaking up either.

Why? Because suicide is a very taboo topic. It’s laden…laden…with shame whether you’ve tried it yourself, considered trying it, have it in your family, or even so much as mention it in polite company. (Try bringing it up at your next holiday dinner and see what happens for yourself.) The taboo against talking about suicide is deeply entrenched and we all learn early and well that secrecy is the ONLY socially correct response.

I’ve always thought that people who can stand up and openly challenge a taboo this powerful are almost mystically brave, which I’m not. N.O.T. During the weeks following Cam’s death, I freely admit I only revealed my own history with suicide one time. And it was the edited and not-entirely-true version of…I almost committed suicide once…and, as expected, the disclosure wasn’t received well allowing my clam shell to quickly slam shut again.

Which, in all honesty is what I really wanted. I was incredibly uncomfortable bringing it up.

But I’d be lying if I said that Cam’s suicide hasn’t called up the old ghosts for me…not that killing myself holds the allure for me it once did, thank God. I passed through a final ring of fire on my last attempt and finally discovered a powerful reason to live, something that’s sustained me ever since.

But I do vividly remember the old stomping grounds of suicidal ideation…that dark and isolated, grotesquely seductive terrain that the terrible wounding of life can topple anyone into…and Cam’s death along with another young family member’s recent suicide attempt has not surprisingly called up those memories. The old ghosts are back, vivid as ever, and they’re deeply distressed and chattering at me to do something.

Only this time, instead of urging me to end my life they seem to have come up with another plan. They want me to emerge from my hidey hole and start being more up front with the world about this part of my life. They want me to say something. They insist…no, moanthat keeping the secret is bad for me and truly awful for them, and they don’t really care anymore if I have mystical courage or not. Joan of Arc isn’t available and I’m all they’ve got.

These ghosts are giving me a lot to think about. I’m not sure what exactly they want me to say, but I know they’re right about one thing…I have been hiding out rather than talking about it. It’s why I quit posting here and why I almost stopped writing entirely for the last five months. With two family members attempting it, OF COURSE suicide has been on my mind a lot, but I really have been too afraid to explore it here on the blog.

For the shame. 

Editor’s note: Not so much anymore though. I have much to be thankful for. 

 

Live Wilder

https://www.livewilder.org/

 

 

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CSA’s and Thoughts About How Hard It Is To Address Childhood Sexual Abuse

I have to start writing faster.  I’m too anal and obsessive, to the point where I spend three hours on a sentence that I should just delete.  Then I do.

(I’m now fighting off the compulsion to go back and extensively rewrite the previous three sentences before I can move on.  Sigh.)

So, since I’m up against my deadline today, and since I’ve wasted the entire week on writing and re-writing a few paragraphs of a post that I’ve now decided not to use, and since I now have nothing to show for all the hours I worked, today I’m going to just write something and then throw it up in the air to see if it flies.  Here goes.

First, CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture.)  We joined a CSA hosted by a local farm this year and it’s been a terrific experience.  Our membership included a set poundage of locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables each week in addition to which we splurged for a free-range chicken or a dozen eggs on alternate weeks.  It’s a whole different way to eat, let me tell you.

We met a number of new vegetables we don’t normally consume (lemon cucumbers and purple potatoes…yum!!, beets…no.  An unfortunate childhood brush with forced feeding seems to have ruined me forever for beets…) and menu planning was an exercise in surrender and total flexibility.  I had no idea what I’d find in the bag from week to week so Tuesday nights involved a steep learning curve and creative (if not always edible) menu planning.  I was feeling increasingly overwhelmed by it all until the lucky discovery that I could throw everything I didn’t know what else to do with into a roasting pan, coat it with olive oil, and then grill it for half an hour.  No waste, little effort, and surprisingly tasty results.

Here’s a pre-roasting photo of some beautiful, colorful mixed vegetables we got from the farm:

It was like eating a trip to Mardi Gras.  What a pleasure.  We’ll definitely be signing on as CSA members again next year.

And now, the difficult part of this post.  The avalanche of shocking revelations this week of child sexual abuse in the showers at Penn State stirred up a lot for me again and…I’m sure…many others who live with that particular legacy.  It also, unfortunately, stirs up a lot for those who love us.  The coverage was so extensive it proved impossible to escape and of course it dredged up old ghosts.  I grew increasingly agitated as the week progressed which inevitably led to the hubster and I having an emotionally loaded discussion about it all which was painful and distressing.  My tail was lashing and claws were out, and he was doing his level best to listen without actually emerging from the behind the door where he might become a possible target himself.

But somehow, in spite of the dangers, we stuck with the discussion, refusing to collapse back into the standard, polite silence that Big Lie insists is more civilized but is really just poisonous and creepy and awful.  The hubster stayed near-but-not-too-close until my wild anger finally broke and the rain of tears began, at which point he knew from experience it was safe to come out and help me wrestle the remaining storm of emotions back to the mat.

We had a really great talk after that and wound up finding a lot of hope and anchors to tie into, and by the time we were through we both felt a lot more positive, strong, and courageous looking forward than we had beforehand.  Here are a couple of the insights we came too:

First, Silence is the biggest enemy we have, bigger even than the predators and the crimes themselves.  Without our longstanding cultural willingness to look the other way, predators would have a far more difficult time finding the hiding and secrecy they need. They exploit and thrive on our instinctive tendency to avert our eyes.  It’s also been well-established that having to keep the secret of abuse afterwards does more lasting damage to a victim than the original abuse itself.  So silence really is the worst thing…but it’s also the one thing that all of us can address, no matter where we are.

Second, stepping up to the plate and reporting this kind of abuse is one of the riskiest, most frightening, and potentially devastating things that a person can do.  Ask any victim.  And it’s not much different for their advocates.  A revelation of this nature has the annihilating power of a nuclear bomb, and to unleash that devastation on a person, or a family, or a community, or an institution that one either still deeply cares about and/or is afraid of, requires a level of courage far beyond what most of us have ever had to muster.  And when it reaches a powerful institutional level as it did with the Catholic church and Penn State, the inevitable costs involved in speaking out can grow so daunting it paralyzes.  I’m not surprised that the men who knew about Sandusky’s predation failed to speak up.  Frankly, I would have been more surprised if they had.  Protecting the status quo has been stand-by operating procedure for centuries, if not longer.  We shouldn’t underestimate just how revolutionary the current movement to expose and address childhood sexual abuse really is.  We’re breaking some serious new trail here so everyone should expect a lot of turbulence during the transition.

In a sense, reporting child sexual abuse is a lot like throwing yourself in front of the gun.  You never know whether someone will decide to shoot you or the predator.  I remember when Mackenzie Phillips released her book with the bombshell that she’d had an incestual relationship with her father that lasted into adulthood.  In spite of all the other unconscionable things her father had done to her that no one argued with, and in spite of the fact that Ms. Phillips was a catalog of symptoms that correlate to childhood sexual abuse, the majority of media coverage still had a bias toward protecting her father and doubting her.  Very few public voices at the time seemed inclined to believe her and the spiraling frenzy of blowback was frightening.

(That was another tough week for those of us with childhood sexual abuse in our past.  As one blogger so succinctly put it at the time, “Evidently, the only thing more taboo than committing incest is a victim trying to talk about it afterwards.”)

One thing that the hubster and I came to in our discussion was the realization that there were times when we, too, had failed to speak up in situations that called for it.  They hadn’t involved anything nearly as extreme as witnessing a child being raped in a university shower, but then most of the time these kinds of things don’t.  On the contrary, they’re usually small enough that we can tell ourselves they’re innocuous and really not worth making a stir over.  Yet it’s on the smaller things where it’s easiest to begin to develop a voice.  When we hear someone at the next table trashing someone we care about, or when our friends are hassling someone unfashionable, or when our coworkers are stealing office supplies, or when someone tells us an offensive joke.  These are the times we can practice saying Y’know, that’s not right.  Please stop.  I believe we’re better than that.  

The hubster said he uses the shame from the memory of his past failure as a motivation to do it differently next time.  Because in that way, he actually harnesses past harm as an energy for future good.  I loved that, because it means that past mistakes are never written in stone.  We can’t go back and change them but they don’t have to define us.  We can define ourselves instead by what we do about them going forward.

And…shoot.  It still took me seven hours to write this frigging post.  The whole spontaneous thing is definitely gonna require practice.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011