My Father’s Birthday

My father’s birthday is tomorrow. If he were alive he would be 108 years old. I simply cannot imagine that. I don’t think that’s odd; I doubt if anybody can imagine a parent living to 108.

I had a consistently unhappy relationship with my father.

For the first few years of my life, I hardly knew what he looked like, even though we all lived in the same apartment. He had not wanted children, and when my brother or I entered a room he was in, he was, he would get up and walk out. He just couldn’t bear to see us.

Years later, I understood. He had been abused like I was, and by many of the same people. Although he wasn’t aware of this, unconsciously he didn’t want to pass on the abuse. And I give him a lot a credit for that. But my mother yearned for children, and so my brother and I were born despite his wishes.

When he returned after the war, he showed interest in me. He thought I was bright and talented and that it was his position to correct the mistakes my teachers were making. If he saw something I wrote, he covered the page with dense red annotations. I had to rewrite it including all his corrections.

He also did intrusive sexual things to me. Dancing with me (and dancing too close). He instituted a formal kiss when we said hello or goodbye to either parent and held me really close when kissing me. Kisses on the cheek turned into kisses on the mouth and then to French kisses. As I got older, he did things like ask me to go to “Deep Throat” with him. He had never before suggested we go to a movie together.

That was the day life. Night life was, to say the least, not as delicate.

A the end of his life, he called me to him and said I was the only one he could trust to follow his wishes. He did not want extraordinary measures taken to prolong his life. However, he felt I needed to know that if I did what he wanted, it would be considered murder in the State we lived in. So I was given the choice of murdering him or of torturing him on his death-bed. Thanks, Dad! I did nothing, and he died shortly afterwards.

For many years I was enraged and wished he would die. When he actually did, I panicked. It felt like the world was about to end. I was afraid to go to his funeral, but my cousin gave me some tracks and I managed to get through it. I was a wreck for about two years afterwards.

Later, I figured out that he had wanted me to take over his role in the cult and that I needed to kill him to do so. No wonder I was such a mess.

As the years passed and I got more and more information about the hidden part of my life, I came to a different understanding of his behavior. In my mind, he changed from my persecutor to just another person who had been horribly harmed from childhood by the cult. Just another victim. My hatred diminished as my understanding grew.

Today, I feel really sad that he did not have the chance to remember and change his life. He tried, I know he tried, but he could not break the amnesia. There was no knowledge of the effects of childhood trauma, even severe trauma, in his life time. Nobody talked about it, nobody was aware of it. Nobody was a “survivor” — e.g., aware of their abuse. Nobody could meet another survivor and realize that they weren’t the only one.

I am so very grateful that ritual abuse is talked about today, even though it is often mocked and denigrated. If it were not for the influence of twelve-step programs and the women’s movement, nobody would have permission to talk about taboo personal experiences. They fostered an openness, a willingness to speak about previously unspeakable things.

And so, when my first memories came crashing over me, others were already talking about ritual abuse and multiplicity. On television, even. That gave me permission to take my memories seriously and gave me, instantly, a welcoming community. If my parents had lived to experience a community of ritual abuse survivors, who knows, they might have been able to renounce the cult and become survivors themselves.

If my father’s spirit is in a better place, I only hope he now knows he is no longer alone, has forgiven himself, and knows that my feelings toward him have changed completely.

So Many Holidays

There are certain times of the year when those “difficult dates” seem to come one right after another. This is one of those times — Thanksgiving, my brother’s birthday, the solstice, and then Christmas and New Year’s. There’s very little time to catch my breath. (Actually, they aren’t “difficult dates” at all; they are, as a friend of mine calls them, “hellidays.”)

For me, it is worse when something that is normal or neutral or even happy for most people comes on the same day as a Satanic holiday. Others are sailing along totally unaware of the horrible thoughts that the day stirs up for me.  When somebody asks, “How was your Thanksgiving?” they expect me to actually tell them how it was, and I know I shouldn’t, not if I want them to keep on talking to me. I’m careful these days who I tell and who I don’t because it doesn’t feel fair to catch folks by surprise. Plus their reaction is usually pretty unpleasant for me and my quota of unpleasantness is already filled.

If I am asked, “What do you plan to do for Christmas?” the first thought that comes to mind is, “Slit my throat.” I don’t intend to, of course, but the idea expresses my feelings pretty well. So I hedge and say, “Nothing much,” or “I’ll be alone this year and I’m okay with that.” It’s the truth, (not the whole truth by far) and nothing but the truth. In my book I’m not lying.

I don’t have to worry about others asking me what plans I have for Groundhog Day, which we know is Candlemas. Few people are aware of the solstices or equinoxes so I don’t need to share anything about those days, either. It’s a relief.

What’s an even bigger relief is knowing other survivors and being able to talk to them and tell it like it really is.  I don’t have to walk on eggshells! Not all of us were abused on exactly the same days and not all of us were abused in the same ways. But it’s similar enough that we all know what it was like to live through it and what it is like today to remember and struggle with the effects of the abuse, year after year.

What in the world would I do without you-all? I cannot imagine living without contact with other survivors. You are my family, my real family, whether I have met you or not. Thank you for being brave enough to push through the hard times, for being strong enough to accept your truth and, by your very existence, to witness other’s truth. You give me solace in my own hard times — I am so very grateful for each and every one of you.

My Brother’s Birthday

I have been down and discouraged all week, only yesterday realizing that today is my brother’s birthday. He has been dead six years now after having been totally disabled by a massive stoke for eight years. Those fourteen years feel like an eternity and an instant at the same time. I can’t seem to come to terms with this: I cry every time I think of him. I’m crying as I write this.

I realize that strokes occur to those who were not born into cults, as well as those that were, but I cannot help but feel that there was a connection.  I resonate with the factors that led to it — self-neglect, shame, and guilt, all-encompassing guilt. He was told he had high blood pressure, but that he could lower it by losing weight. I’m sure he said to himself that he would go back to the doctor when he lost weight, and then never did, until he was forced to by a medium-sized stroke. A couple of years later, a second stroke left him unable to communicate, unable to eat except through a feeding tube, and able to move only one arm. The ER, intensive care unit, and nursing home gave him very good care for eight years and kept him alive in total dependence. It was heart-breaking.

I was close to my brother as a child in both the “day life” and the “night life,” although we never spoke of the cult — it was buried under impenetrable layers of amnesia. He was the only person in my family that I liked and trusted. But slowly, we grew apart. In high school he appeared increasingly shy and by the time he graduated college he had what these days we call “social phobia.” People made him so uncomfortable that he withdrew as far as he could.

It wasn’t just strangers — everybody made him anxious, including me. First he stopped calling me, then he stopped answering his phone when I called. If I did reach him and invited him to something, he found an excuse. My sweet brother had become a ghost. We managed to see each other every few years, more so after my husband died. He sensed I needed him, and rose to the occasion. He painted rooms, changed tires, fixed my fence. We connected over tasks, but couldn’t talk personally.

When I discovered I had been molested, and later, when my cult background came to light, I disclosed to him without hesitation. I was hoping that he, too, would remember and would have a chance for a happier life. He said a few things that indicated he had been cult-abused, like “I cannot look people in the eye because I see a knife in their eye or a beating heart.” But that was all.

I couldn’t protect him when we were children and I couldn’t help him heal when we were adults. As I became more connected to my past, he became more disconnected from me. And then the strokes came.

I see that the way I handle my grief is to reach out to others. Although I could never help him, I can at least try to make a difference in the lives of some people I do not know. Every word I have written is in his memory.