August 15, 2012

Freak - Part 3: Manure Makes Good Compost

Hi all,

Here's the conclusion to Rebecca's amazing story!


So we know what a mean scumball I was to myself.  We know I was raped and beaten as a kid, that I have scars from cigarette burns, that my tiny uterus was ruptured and the cause of decades of pain.  Yes, I was suicidal.  Sure, I hated my own guts.  Yeah, I followed the rape and incest textbook on screwed up behavior.  To the letter.

Now I don't.  Love came in and saved me.  Love for myself and that shattered little girl inside.

It's not like I'm all better.  I will always have shadows.  It's kind of naive to think that even love could wipe out the kind of things we've endured.  But love can keep that barking dog at bay.  Oh, it most certainly can.  I can live with a rabid hound snarling at the door from time to time, but I won't endure its bite anymore.  Such memories have teeth; a raging manure pile of thought and fangs, agony and terror, shame and degradation.   

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. 

My insecurity is a chattering annoyance now.  Every once in a while, I have an acid flashback of angst, but my daily doses of self-love exercises keep the monster at bay.  And that's not bad at all.  Given my past and how much it sucked, this is truly a wonderful life.  I'm creating again.  I'm helping people.  I'm in a good relationship with a man who neither wants to control me or break my spirit.   

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.

It's a strange thing to be born again.  Not in any religious way, but in a physical, emotional and spiritual emergence, a shedding of thick layers of pain and hatred, insecurity and unfulfilled rage.  That crap is heavy.  Once you're not dragging it around anymore, you look back and can't believe the black hole drag it had always been.  How exhausting it was.  We are Atlas, my brothers and sisters of circumstance.  We carry the weight of the world's sins on our shoulders.  But we don't have to do it.  We can lay that mountain of manure down, spread it across a field and sow some seeds in it.  Green, nourishing plants, glorious flowers, soft and tender shoots.  Great beauty can come from such filth if we choose to use it for good.  Take it from me, a flop-sweated, thick crusted basketcase of a former victim/abuser.  I am an insecurity addict and I treat it as such.  Day by day by wonderful day. 

Take care.  R
Watch this interview with Rebecca!

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. 

1 comment:

  1. I applaud you and your sharing with us!

    Some thirty years ago while working as an orderly in a small town hospital's ER I had my first introduction to what you experienced. Holding a 12 to 16 month old female with her arms and legs all healed after being broken without resetting and cigarette burns round from her buttocks to genitalia and back was my first glance into what you know.

    Your openness is part of what it takes to open the rest of those eyes needing to pay attention.


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