2nd writing from what’s in this post: +TRAUMA STORIES — THE TRUTH MAY NEVER BE TOLD IN WORDS about the song I wrote about my Bible camp canoe memory. Here is the other half of that story.
I evidently started something unexpected for myself this week when I decided to write a song about my experience the month before my 12th birthday at Bible camp July 1963. I wrote about part of a memory involving my lonely mid-night canoe journey in yesterday’s post. It is with difficulty that I approach this morning the telling of the second half of that story.
I have never written about this experience before. I struggle with myself in a conflict that tells me both that “This is such a trivial event” and that “This event was so upsetting to me that it lies close to the very bottom of the ocean of memories that have yet to be revealed.”
By “revealed” I must mean to myself that although I have never forgotten what I am going to write about neither have I yet worked my way through what these camp experiences both meant to me and did to me. I have not yet felt the healing of understanding regarding these memories.
I realized after yesterday’s piano lesson during which my teacher and I spent the first half working with a beautiful song I wrote last week, full of melodic patterns that touch a soul in an uplifting way and then spent the second half working with the horrible-sounding song about the night I ‘stole’ the canoe that something important needs to be accomplished for me by staring my camp experiences right in the face (and gut).
I wanted my teacher to first know that I can write ‘nice’, beautiful songs. Then came the ugly one. Oh, watching my teacher’s body and face as he played the patterns and combinations of jarring and difficult notes in my “Nearly Twelve” canoe-stealing song was priceless to me. No, I am not a sadist, but I experienced an empowering feeling perceiving him struggle with that song such as nothing I have ever known before.
My guess is that only someone with an early infant-child abuse history similar to mine will truly comprehend what I am going to say next. I was a child who was singled out at my birth for horrendous, mind-bending, nearly soul-breaking abuse that lasted on a continual basis throughout the entire 18 inescapable years of my childhood. Yes, my mother was a mad woman. Yes, my father was worse than useless when it came to expressing a single (to use one of my mother’s words) “iota” of assistance or compassion to me.
And yes, most of what I have been through lies beyond what words alone will ever have the power to communicate to another human being.
Empathy. A word that we like to use as human beings combined together in what we like to call a society, a culture, a civilization. Yes, empathy is something most people share with one another to communicate experiences that we do not frame in the context of words. But how do other people even begin to imagine what happened to children like me (and others who were the sole singled out targets of insane, brutal continual abuse)?
So, yesterday as I watched my piano teacher struggle with the tones of that song I wrote about the canoe I recognized – BINGO! I DID IT!
In that song I communicated for the first time in my life the TONAL FEELING of my reality that month before I turned 12. And, yes, that feeling was unbelievably horrible.
This is a level of reality that I struggle with in my book-writing. How do I tell my story in its truth without brutalizing my readers? If I don’t tell the truth, which is a truly horrific, brutalizing truth of abuse and trauma, then I am not telling my story at all. If I don’t tell my truth – which I admit is more than most either could bear or would want to bear – even for a brief period of time while they read (or in the case of this song listen) to my truth – I am not telling my own story.
So, at this point in time I have given up book writing.
And at this point of time I am turning to the valuable media of notes and song.
A POWERFUL and EFFECTIVE medium, as I discovered yesterday.
Now, in line with my own ‘theory’ that nearly every single one of my memories of abuse from my childhood has been chosen by me on some level to be retained BECAUSE in each instance there was something powerfully GOOD inside of me that was remembered at the same time and in combination with something nearly overwhelmingly BAD related to severe abuse, I turn to my camp memory.
Until today I have always kept separate (dissociated from one another) two separate memories that I now recognize as being a single combined GOOD/BAD memory.
Now that I opened the secret garden hidden gate into the canoe-stealing memory I sit with the other half of that memory that I have only told two people (my daughter and of yesterday also my piano teacher). I have never written about this memory, and it seems this morning that until I do I will not be able to bring any light of healing into what appears to be, nearly 50 years later, an area of my own being that I have left alone in darkness. I cannot understand what happened or free myself from the weighty chains that bind me back there in time until I begin to use the power of my words to clarify for myself what happened to me.
I have stated repeatedly in my writings that I have no explicit sexual abuse history that I know of. Yet on its surface, and perhaps in its depths, this experience was sexually abusive to me.
I had never been allowed to have friends, to play freely, or to even bask in the comfort of ongoing relationships with my siblings. A huge part of my mother’s abusive psychosis about me being ‘the devil’s evil child’ was her belief that I ‘could take’ her other children ‘to the devil’. As I have discovered in my book writing there is a massive dark side underpinning this psychosis my mother enacted in her abuse of me. My mother HAD to confine me in hell ALONE – for many reasons.
So when I was on this one week in July 1963 let loose in the confines of a Bible camp filled with strangers without my mother being present I was placed inside a social situation for the first time in my life with adults and with my peers that I had NO experience coping with. I so seldom lifted my eyes from the floor or opened my mouth to sigh a word at school that I might as well have been wrapped in a Black Widow’s killing web made by my mother that contained me everywhere I went.
And then there is THIS night. Only now do I understand that these two experiences as they exist in my memory happened on the same night, back-to-back.
It is bedtime. I do not know if the camp counselor assigned to manage this group of 14 girls in this cabin was present for this event or not. I hope she was not. What I do know is that it is night time. It is time to get ready for bed. Seven bunk beds against the walls surround the center of the cabin floor. In the center are two large tables with benches. Standing in a circle surrounding these tables with backs to the bunks stand all but one of the 14 girls. I am the one missing.
I was missing from the circle for as long as I could manage. Returning to the pain of this memory I want to know why I was not able to say to all these girls “To HELL with you!” I want to know why I didn’t finish changing into my pajamas and climb inside my sleeping bag in my own assigned bunk – and do so alone no matter WHAT the rest of that group of girls was doing. I want to know why I didn’t squeeze myself through that ring of children to find my way to freedom outside the cabin door.
I ask a lot of myself. I find at this moment that I have not forgiven myself for not being able to resist a situation that was not only bad for me, but TERRIBLE! Where is my own compassion for myself? Where is my ability to grant myself permission to be an innocent? How does a person heal from victimizing childhood shame and humiliation?
The pressure to be a part of this ‘contest’ that someone designed – perhaps the counselor, horrible as that thought is – or perhaps in her temporary absence another bossy girl with or without her ‘helpers’ – was more than I could in the end resist. I too stripped off all of my clothes and joined that circle of undressed giggling, pointing girls who were determined to award some kind of prize I do not remember on the one of us who had the most pubic hair.
I see myself standing in that circle with my back to a bunk bed facing the cabin door. Do I have the marks of bruises from Mother’s beatings visible on my body? I do not know, but that was usually the case. So thin, I stood there, the last compliant. And I won. No glory. No glory whatsoever in the circle that felt like the so-familiar hell I always lived in.
Different time. Different place. But hell is hell no matter where it captures a child.
It was THIS night I now understand after writing that song, after hearing my piano teacher wince and cringe as I watched him physically (unconsciously) trying to escape its truth of feeling when he played it yesterday, that I now understand was THE SAME night. I did not sleep after this circle from hell disbanded. Once all those girls, enemies of my soul I was equally as powerless to escape or resist as I was my mother, were all sound asleep I got up, dressed, and went for that canoe.
My piano teacher and I talked about the possibility of me re-working the words of my canoe song into a ‘nicer’ melody. I don’t know if I will do that or not. The fact that this song communicated to somebody else what I FELT like as a child – something I finally witnessed happening for the first time in my entire life — is so powerful to me I think my song deserves to stand exactly as it is.
My teacher and I discussed that in the context of all the years of terrible abuse that had happened to me prior to the moments I slid that canoe into that dark night’s lake – and in the context of all the years abuse that followed that night – the song contains what I felt inside IN SPITE of the beauty of that glide across that water and around that island.
The fact that I was daring enough to venture out alone the way I did holds no weight against the burden in my body of the reality that abuse had forced inside of me from the instant of my birth. Today as I explore how my exiting that cabin was a direct response to the horror of my experience being forced to expose and display myself in that icky girlish circle both pieces of my memory will begin to change.
Change, in essence, is what healing means to me. It is having horribly traumatic experiences locked away in ‘bubble’ memories as dissociated fragments of unhealed experiences that makes truly learning about my own goodness so difficult.
I will leave all of this lay for now – at the surface – in the light of day. I am writing another song now, one about something I knew when I was five that is still pure and beautiful to me. I want THAT song next.
On the side of spirituality: *UNDERSTANDING AND TRUTH