Monday, December 24, 2007

Bittersweet Memories As Christmas Approaches

As I was listening to the type of Christmas music that was so much a part of my childhood I found sadness washing through me. Usually I try to block this general sadness whenever it comes because it feels like if I don't that I will slide into a funnel of sadness and pain over events in the past -- both wonderful and horrific -- which cannot be restored or undone.

I had completed my usual calls to my immediate family on holidays when we aren't together but this Christmas there was one less call to make since I lost my oldest brother in April. His loss was still fresh enough that I felt that unplaced call acutely. Even though there were times in childhood when he was nothing better than my tormentor, we had many areas where we viewed the world in similar ways and there were times when he stood up for me when I couldn't stand up for myself.

My rape not only caused me personal pain, this event which was unknown to my family caused me to have triggers and reactions which I couldn't explain to them. It caused part of me to always be alone even when I was surrounded by family. Both of my parents and my oldest brother died not knowing of my rape even though only my mother died before I was outed as a rape survivor because of publishing my autobiographical novel Cherry Love.

Family can be a complex tangle.

It seemed like telling them would only cause them needless pain. They had long ago dismissed my post-rape rebellion as nothing more than normal teenage rebellion. My relationship with my family was stable and the mistakes of my past were never thrown up in my face so telling wouldn't have helped to resolve ongoing conflicts.

Only after my oldest brother died did I find a way to tell my sister. That conversation is one of the toughest in my life, but I am so glad that I found the words to cross that well-established barrier. We are still very different, as were were before I was raped, but I think it helped her to understand me in a way that would have been impossible without my telling her about my rape.

Which brings me back to the pain I felt as I listened to a choir echo the Christmas music from my childhood. I didn't have to fight the pain because all of the landmines left by my rape and related actions have been exploded or they have been disarmed in the last 10 plus years since I became determined to get the essence of my experiences before, during and after my rape down on paper.

I made mistakes before being raped such as trusting someone who wasn't worthy of my trust, but that didn't make me the one responsible for my rape. I made plenty of mistakes after my rape, but I somehow survived pain that at times seemed unbearable and unending.

There is something very healing about being there for others like I wish someone had been there for me after I was raped. I can't change the past but I can change the present and I can influence the future. I helped people during my 9 plus years volunteering on my local rape crisis line and I continue to help people by speaking out through my blogging and elsewhere. I always wish I could do more, but I don't let that feeling of being too small to face such a huge amount of wrongdoing stop me from doing what I can do without using up all of my reserves.

It helps that I know there are other rape survivors doing what they can and I know that our combined efforts along with the efforts of dedicated and caring non-survivors have changed laws and at least some attitudes and can continue to counter the efforts of those who hate what I am doing and wish they could roll back the attitudes and laws to protect most rapists from accountability for their violence.

I can and do enjoy thwarting the abusers and the enablers whenever I can and I enjoy calling out their lies and their manipulations. Words have power and I enjoys deflating the words of those who help rapists rationalize their actions.

I can feel the pain of my losses fully because I know that I will get through that pain and I know that emotional pain is healthy in the right balance. Those who choose to feel no emotional pain for whatever reason do not feel empathy for other people's pain and have no feeling of remorse when they take actions which inflict pain that will echo inside another person for years to come.

My healthy pain confirms that I no longer need to be disconnected from part of myself in order to cope. That's a gift better than anything that could be contained inside a gift-wrapped package.

I wish for everyone that you only feel healthy pain and you only trigger healthy pain in others.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:30 AM   3 comments links to this post


At December 24, 2007 9:24 AM, Blogger Rhea said...

Thank you for your blog and today's post. I wish you the best holidays ever.

At December 24, 2007 12:09 PM, Anonymous Debs said...

I can only second what Rhea said, Marcella. I really appreciate the work you put into this blog, and the Carnival Against Sexual Violence too. Take care, Debs x

At December 28, 2007 12:10 AM, Blogger Patricia Singleton said...

This was a Christmas Season that I felt what you called the healthy pain of sadness and anger from the abuse of the past. I was ok with feeling it. I overate at times when it got too uncomfortable and that is ok too. I did better this year than I ever have before with staying with the feelings for a longer period of time. I blogged about the feelings and that made it better. Thanks for the work that you do.


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