When I used to teach art therapy at an abused children's home, I told the kids that they had a manure pile of memories. There was nothing they could do about it. They could never be rid of it. But they still had choices as to what they did with that steaming pile. They could drown in the stink of it, or turn it into compost and grow a garden. The best way to do that is with love. Love themselves, protect their wounded innocence, and if possible, help others. That's what I try to do now.
Like a cancer patient listening to a cancer survivor, there's something enormously comforting about seeing somebody who went through what you did, endured the unspeakable as you have, who helps you through it all. You will listen and react to them far better than some well-meaning but obviously innocent-of-horror friend. So I share my crazy memories. I tell about my abusers, my parents and siblings, family and friends, lovers and husbands. But most of all, I tell them about the biggest monster of all: my own insecurity. It invaded my mind and heart as my body was brutalized and, like the parasite it is, it stayed behind long after my monsters were gone. I became a host to it, a fertile breeding ground where it could grow and devour me at will.
Rapists and pedophiles are not unlike tarantula wasps. They grab us, invade us, and leave behind something that slowly eats us alive. Insecurity. And, like a patient with some unknown disease sucking the life out of us, it's hard to combat a foe when you have no diagnosis. Know thy enemy. Once you recognize the problem, isolate the invader, you can come up with a defense. Soon after that, an offense.
I chased my self-hatred like a farmer chases a greased pig; cursing, falling, grabbing hold again and again, only to have the sloppy thing slip through my fingers, scampering away with a gleeful squeal. But I never quit. And all that exercise gave me strength and made it shrink. Once fat and terrifying, more a wild boar than a pig, it grew smaller and smaller as I chased it, until I finally dove and held on. Muddy, scraped up and cursing a blue streak, I held on.
When we first began living together, he was baffled by my twitchy behavior. I did things even I didn't realize; rushed to get him things but never asked for reciprocation, turned on him like a pit bull when he said anything that triggered the past, however innocuous. Finally, one day, he said, "Why do you give me that deer-in-headlight stare every time I ask if you want something? You look almost scared. I just asked if you wanted some tea." Before I had my insecurity on a leash, those few sentences would have sent me into a panic. Now, they simply stunned me. I wasn't used to kindness. Had never had much experience with thoughtfulness in a lover. I was actually frightened by it. He was right. My deer-in-headlights stare was exactly that: a frightened, dumb animal about to be hit by a truck. But it wasn't a truck. It was human behavior. Not monster, not deviant, no hidden cruelty lurking behind the bait of a gentle gesture. Just kindness; an alien concept in someone I'd been intimate with. I'd gotten so used to being nothing more than something to screw, I didn't know how to react.
Connect with Rebecca on Twitter or Facebook and find her book on Amazon.
Rebecca O'Donnell is an artist/writer. She has taught art therapy at an abused children's home, given lectures concerning parenting a drug addict, and written for various historical journals, mainly focusing on World War II. She's illustrated a coloring book for Paul Newman's Double "H" Hole in the Woods camp, created confectionery displays for the Long Island Shakespeare Society, Oheka Castle and the Alice Tully estate, and donated huge gingerbread houses to the cancer ward of Schneider's Children's Hospital, some of which the kids broke apart and ate on Christmas Day. She has two grown children and a beloved artist/writer boyfriend, with whom she's collaborating on a graphic novel for next year. Rebecca currently lives in New York.