The blog post today is written by someone with a unique position on this subject. Her love, courage and resilience are inspiring and need no debriefing or reinforcement.....it all shines through. And our whole culture can learn from what she has to say.
I am writing this blog for Lee as a member of the #metoo movement. I am female but I am not writing this as a victim. I am a mother of a victim. And, I also happen to be the mother of the offender as well.
You see, many years ago, my 13 year old son, convinced my 11 year old daughter to touch him inappropriately. My daughter confided in me shortly after and my world tipped on it’s axis just a few degrees. As I type this, despite the number of years that separate us from “the incident”, I still feel the visceral feelings I felt when I was dealt the blow of this news.
My mistake from the beginning was that I stopped trusting myself. I turned to others for advice and guidance and what I found initially was a community based on fear and judgment. People around us, the so-called “experts” were quick to label him as “perpetrator” and her as “vicitim”. We were handed pamphlets that described other “incidents” and were reminded frequently that our family’s future was in peril – my son and daughter would not ever have a healthy relationship and that how I lived my role as a mother with this situation would determine the fate of things. At least that’s what I heard. And, I am fairly certain I am not making this up. We live in a society that wants to solve problems quickly and likes to look for right answers and wrong answers. Victims and offenders. My mind, from the beginning, felt that there were 2 “victims” here…both my children were on the cusp of young adulthood and this incident would be a defining moment in their views of their sexuality, shame around it, future relationships and their entire sense of self – BOTH of them. But, I was not on solid ground and I let the “other” voices get in my head and push me off the path – for a while.
I recently read a beautiful quote from Bryan Stevenson: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” If we each lived our lives knowing that we will make mistakes and trip up and allowed chances for others to make mistakes and trip up, then our society would be completely different. I am not excusing my son’s actions, but I am asking him to own them and ask for forgiveness – every day. Even as recently as last week when he told me (now a 20 something) that he still carries that with him “in his heart”. I wish I knew that then – but I didn’t truly know it until I had to live it.
Those who know us certainly know our family is not perfect. We have ALL made mistakes and we all have things we struggle with. Each of us have traumas – BIG traumas and smaller ones. Incidents similar to this incident could have rocked some families and torn them apart. Other families, I have since learned, have had very similar incidents which they did not regard in any way as a trauma – merely as a teaching or a reminder to put up boundaries. Or, I’ve learned merely by coincidence, some of my friends had situations where it was swept under the rug – never to be discussed again. Again, we all perceive the world differently and no one knows what life will throw us. I guess the answer always lies in trying to understand the other person with love and compassion. To listen. To have conversations where you care about the other as much (or more) than you care about your own perception. It takes tons of time to do this – a lifetime – and we don’t always do it well. Triggers come up and we need to re-visit and check in with one another from time to time. Some of the members of our family can talk about the situation with ease and some are still processing. Some have left it behind them and closed that door and some still need to heal. But, together, we are figuring it out – with lots of support from those around us and an open mind and a common goal that we love our family – even the messy and broken bits of it….maybe even especially those bits. It is my hope that the #metoomovement does not continue to point fingers of blame and shame but helps ALL involved to heal. I recently read this: We all have burdens (traumas) that are like boulders. Problems arise when people act as if their boulders are daily loads, and refuse help….or as if their daily loads are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry.” Fortunately, my adult children are now quite capable of carrying their own burdens and are able to ask for help when the burdens become too heavy to carry.
An equally important tidbit that I can share with you is how our family looks today. We are a completely “normal” family. Whatever that means. We love being together – except when we don’t. We fight. We push each other. We disagree. Loudly. We are messy and we sometimes walk on eggshells around each other. But, we have a very deep compassion for one another and a common respect for each other to heal however they need to heal. Very few people know about “the incident” – nor do they need to know. Not because it is a secret but more because our current society is quick to shame, blame and judge – particularly this sort of incident. I know I did, in the early days – I judged myself as parent and my son, in particular. Also, it is not just my story to tell. There are other stories here that need to also be considered. And, out of respect for each of them, we do not speak about it outside our family very much. When the day comes that they are ready to share, I will be ready to help them to do that with Grace and Dignity for all of us. It may be scarey but it is my hope that it will also be liberating – and we all deserve the ability to be liberated, if we need to be. And, it is equally liberating and scarey to know that we have no idea where we are heading – at all. I do not have the ability to predict the direction in which we as a family will head – there are far too many variables.
What I have learned, through countless hours of therapy – with those close to me is that only I get to define what my path will be and it is just that, MY path. I cannot control the paths of others. I cannot take responsibility for their choices – but more importantly, I cannot judge their choices. If we are going to heal as a family, then there is only room for LOVE…no fear.
My old approach was flawed. But thanks to my dear friend and also to my fabulous therapist who both provided an anchor and a safe harbor to sift out what really was my story. In the early days I saw Lee weekly. Then monthly. Then sometimes weekly again if something led me to vulnerability and shame. Now, I go to her to gain perspective because I know she will be honest and frank with me. That she knows me and she knows what I am about. That she values my perspective. As she said to me on my last visit: “Look. We are both learning alongside each other. The questions you bring to me and thoughts you have challenge me too. We are both figuring this out together. It’s not easy. I am here for you.” Some people might not want to hear their therapist say that she doesn’t have the answers for you. But, I think the best expert in any situation will be the one that is honest and true to you. No one knows what is right for another. A therapist, or anyone, who is willing to sit with you and see you – all of you – while you work it out is the one I definitely want in my corner. It was a relief to hear her say those words, truly. I had felt so inept for so long because I just couldn’t reason the situation out. Every visit I have with her to this day is filled with a nugget of wisdom that I tuck away with me and carry forward.
It has taken a lot of time to integrate this new perspective (or really, these new perspectives) into my whole being. If someone at the time would have told me that I would take a decade to be able to even tell my story anonymously, I would have run into a corner crying or lay in a catatonic state for a considerable length of time. Truth is, no one knows how long it will take to heal from these traumas. But, the more you cling to the “old way” of seeing things – the story you are telling yourself – the longer it will take to begin to get on with the process of healing. Actually, that’s not true. The process of healing actually ALSO contains that “old story” and clinging to it – until you realize that it is not serving you. And that it is fear that is preventing you from letting go of that attachment that this must be the only way to look at the situation. The time that you cocoon and protect yourself. The caterpillar cannot emerge from the chrysalis until all the pieces are in place for it to be a butterfly. It takes time, and space, and compassion, and work and finally, it takes an ability to want to let go of the old story that you are telling yourself. To do this, it’s been my experience that you need to examine all the ugly bits and then release each one. Layers. Interestingly, my husband, jumped from “The incident” to “the Healing” much, much faster than me. He did it in about 4 weeks. And he seemed to let it all go with such ease. We are all different and we heal at different rates. So, no one can tell you what your rate will look like. Thank GOD!
What I have learned from all of this are some major take-aways and things I wish I had been told (or had heard) right from the start. I wish that the pamphlets that I was handed that first day I went looking for help or those early discussions only contained this:
- When you are faced with horrible, traumatic or shocking news you will feel like you are in a “fun house”. You will lose sight of what is true and what is not true. You will no longer trust yourself or your instincts to guide you. You will become lost, doubtful and afraid.
- There will always be a way through to the other side. My friend calls it a raging river. You will stand on the one side of it and know you have to go through it. You will not see a clear path but you will long for the green hills on the other side. You will fight going through it. You will try to take the easiest path. You will feel like you are alone and fighting the current (and you are). You will yell, scream, cry, lie down, bury yourself and do all other things to avoid it but eventually you will have to start taking that first step. Take as long as you need.
- There will be others there to help. Some will act as stepping stones, some will listen, some will point to the right path. Some will point to the wrong path. Some will make you full of fear. You will need to listen to how you FEEL to determine where that next step will need to be. There is not a path forged for you, but there are others who have faced difficult things, look to those you admire and fashion yourself in the same way so that you can be Brave. You will have to do difficult things. Despite how you feel, you are capable of doing them. BE BRAVE. Do not let fear steer your vehicle. There is no place for fear in the driver’s seat. Fear can offer suggestions and help navigate but FEAR MUST NEVER BE ALLOWED TO DRIVE THE CAR. And remember to be Brave, you do actually have to do tough things.
- One act does not define a person. At the time Lee said that “Right now it is as though the whole story of their life is being defined by this one incident. When in fact, this one incident will eventually be just one chapter in the entire book of their whole life. Look at what else they are and who else they are and DO NOT LET THIS INCIDENT DEFINE THEM.”
- It will take time. Lots of time. To heal. And, you need to be gentle with the healing process. There isn’t one path out. There are lots of variables and lots of other people in the equation. You can not control their reactions or actions. You can only be responsible for you and HOPE that the others will take responsibility too. And it will get messy – it will never be perfect. But patterns will arise and you will have ample opportunities to re-do anything that you need to “fix”.
- Never give up HOPE. Hope and a vision for what you want is what will get you to where you want to go. You cannot be attached to that vision. The vision for what you want will not be black and white. You cannot demand that by this date everything will look like this. NO. That’s not helpful. You just need to be clear on what it is that matters to you at the end of the day and stay the course. It will come. But it NEVER COMES IN THE WAY YOU THINK IT WILL. Remember that.
- Along with FEAR – its good friends “SHAME” AND “GUILT” will come along. Anger and Resentment often join in too. This is how you know you are not acting out of LOVE. Find ways to get rid of the “inner critic” voices and reconnect with what matters. Writing, meditation, therapy and exercise all helped me to heal.
- You cannot see the picture if you are part of the frame – thanks Lee! You have NO IDEA how this will turn out and so, do not judge anything. Just notice, be aware and stay tethered to love. LOVE WILL GET YOU THROUGH – ANYTHING
- There is nothing “good” or “bad”…only if you make it so…..so do not get ahead of yourself and make up a story….your story is only your view of “reality” and the “reality” is we do not know the entire story – ever. Period. Life is a work in progress – we are never truly finished anything.
- You will come out of this an entirely different person. You did not ask for this. But no one asks for hard things. We all want our lives to be joyful - and they will be. Growth doesn’t happen when things are going well, growth happens in tough circumstances. Grief and Loss are a big part of this and both of those things shape who you will become. But know that you will want to be that new person. Make it a point to like her and choose to only hold on to things that make her stronger and more loving. There is too much fear, bitterness and anger in our world already. And, at the end of the day, you will serve as a beacon for others. You will want to be the beacon that draws them to you, not the one that steers them away. That is who I want to be and that is what we are working towards – every day – in our family.
Men and women are soicalized differently from the day they are born. Terry Real, author and psychotherapist, states that by the age of 5 boys are taught culturally not to be in touch with their emotions which can lead to a lack of ability to empathize with others.
A study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, contributes a global perspective to this issue. The key finding: Whether a child is in Baltimore, Beijing or New Delhi, the onset of adolescence triggers a common set of rigidly enforced gender expectations associated with increased lifelong risks of mental and physical health problems.The study calls it the hegemonic myth: the perception that men are the dominant sex, strong and independent, while women need to be protected.
This idea starts in early childhood, reinforced by schools, parents and media. Interviews with children and their guardians revealed that the onset of puberty triggers increased reinforcement of pressure to conform to hegemonic sex-typed identities and roles.
While boys, men described having the freedom to come and go as they pleased to pursue education and other opportunities, girls found their mobility and access to education restricted, the study notes. As they enter adolescence, silence and modesty are instilled as desirable values, as girls are pressed to behave in a "modest fashion."
Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at University of California and the author of The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence.
He states that " we need to take on the myths that sustain the abuses of power. Social scientists have documented how coercive power structures sustain themselves through social myths, which most typically justify the standing and unfettered action of those at the top. We’ve heard them before: “Women aren’t biologically equipped to lead.” “African Americans aren’t worthy of the vote.” “He may scream at people and cross some lines, but he’s a genius.” And a favorite in Hollywood: “Women are turned on by men with power like Weinstein.” Actual scientific studies find something quite different: When women (and men) are placed into positions of less power, their anxiety, self-consciousness, and worry rise dramatically, and their pleasure and delight, including sexual, are turned off".
Trevor Noah's summary of Larry Nassar's (Olympic coach who sexually abused 150 girls) sentencing was beautiful when he stated that " the enablers who were part of the systemic disease that allows people in positions of power to behave that way should be given 10% of the sentence in jail". (I would post the link but it has been taken down in Canada for some reason.)
We are all responsible for the fact that our society is still misogynistic. And we are all suffering for it. We all need to claim that we are powerful and vulnerable our whole lives. All of us. And we need to have taking responsibility for when we have crossed lines, any lines, sexual or not, be an honourable behaviour to do instead of modelling hiding and lying, labelling and putting down other people. This will give both men and women something to model after and create more safety for all.
No one should have to say "Me Too" or to have to live with having caused that and it's repercussions.
To learn the concept of boundaries and consent, here is a very clever video: