Facing the Pain Together

There we were, the three of us sitting in Faith’s room coming undone together. A day of reacting, of crying, of hurting led us each to our own discoveries. Faith was the one first able to get at what was going on underneath the reacting, the irritation, the symptoms. When she started to name how different she perpetually feels from her peers, from the way things are or the way girl’s are supposed to be, and how she feels sick to her stomach when she thinks about such things, Bailey and I both found her there too. We were back in our own truth and in our own depth, instead of being relegated to our surface selves – the selves most notorious for revealing all the symptoms of the deeper wounds. The most common symptoms are exasperation and irritation at the world around us. Bailey echoed Faith’s sentiments on what we’ve come to refer to as high school girl culture and added her own disorienting and disillusioning experiences related to an event they both attended over the weekend.

Instead of trying to help guide them toward some sage wisdom or manufactured sense of empowerment in their individuality, I let my own tears begin to fall and do the painful work of receiving the greater truth that was coming to me in that raw moment. This was what I had feared most when I first wondered if I should ever have any children. How could I survive witnessing my own daughter(s) having to endure the torture that comes with being female in this world? Wow, I would think to myself, that’s a little dramatic, Shauna. And then I’d remember the darkest years. Years that followed the abuse. Years that followed the objectification and sexualization. The years of splitting. All the girl parts of me that were ever free enough to explore, to feel pleasure, to experience life subjectively were no longer allowed in public. And eventually they forgot how to be present in private too.

I swallowed whole some new illusions when I first turned to religion. I wanted to believe that I could somehow shield my children from the atrocities of a long standing societal system that perpetually objectifies one half of it’s members. If I could become godly enough, stay married enough, be the best and most holy mother to my children, gain wisdom enough, and heal psychologically enough to prevent the pattern of abuse from recurring then my children would be held together, protected somehow from the splitting I had experienced.

But here we were. Sitting together in the bedroom of my 16 year old feeling the impact. Because no matter how hard I have worked for the past 16 years at mothering to the best of my abilities, I could not shield them from the culture hell-bent on ravaging and devouring and splitting the lives of girls and women. And this fixation ruins boys and men too. But that topic is for another day, another post. Neither of my teens have stories of abuse. Neither of my teens have survived the complete fracturing of a family unit. Neither of them are even remotely as needy and starved for affection as I was when I was their age. I thought that if I did everything I could to ensure that they had very different stories from my own, that they would be spared from the pain. Relatively rational creature that I am, I knew they’d still have to encounter hard things, but I envisioned they’d be entirely unencumbered by the rules and expectations bestowed upon them the moment the doctor announced, “It’s a girl!”

But here we are. The truth is that my daughters, because of the sheer fact that they are in fact my daughters – descendants of this particularly hyperaware and ridiculously sensitive and perceptive human they call mom, they had no choice but to swallow the red pill. So they see life as it really is. They see all the rules. All the masks. All the denial. All the pain. Much of the horror. They hear the stories of blow jobs and anal sex from 15 and 14 and sometimes 13 year old girls who claim its their best form of birth control. They ask if it’s even possible for a girl to orgasm in either scenario and then they are even more confused as to why sexuality for their peers is about being objects and not subjects. They feel split too – between who they really are and who they would need to be to fit in with their peers. They feel the poison all around them and they see their friends drinking it freely because it’s all that they have known. They even know that some of the poison seeps into their skin because it’s in the air all around them. It’s on the walls of their high school. It’s even in our house because their mama drank from the poison for much of her early life and she’s 37 and still trying to purge the toxicity. It’s on their screens. It’s in their music. We are all choking on it all the time. And my girls and I…we know it. And it feels unbearable and overwhelming sometimes. We feel powerless much of the time. And it feels painful all of the time.

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Rage Rising

The topic is never far from my mind. I wonder if that is true for most (if not all) women. Perhaps my own awareness of the topic is intensified particularly because of my work and training as a therapist alongside my own history of past sexual abuse. But then again, the current statistics suggest that if we do not have a personal narrative of sexual violation, then we most certainly know some who do. So if the topic isn’t as much of a focus for others, dare I say that I think it should be.

I have been a fairly mild-mannered feminist for the past several years. Never wanting to be perceived as a raging-man-hating-f-word, I have tempered my passion. I’ve justified the tempering as the necessary means to foster a “safe” environment for discussion around difficult categories. I want to be heard and I realize that raging out loud doesn’t always lead to the conditions for the kind of dialogue I want to encourage. And there it is. Did you catch that? It’s one more example of how internalized patriarchy has molded my own posture in the complex world I find myself navigating as a female. I have internalized a belief structure that requires women to either cut off their rage or to hide it under layers of gentleness, politeness and thoughtfulness in order to be deemed worthy of lending an ear.

Rage found it’s way to the surface this week. If only for a moment, the seal was broken. After reading about the recent gruesome attack and gang rape of several aid workers in Sudan, being reminded of how rape is used as a weapon of war, and hearing news of Brock Turner’s release from jail after a measly three months, it was reading through the school dress codes for my daughters’ middle and high school that caused my blood to boil. Because it’s all connected. Somehow. And I hope to unpack some of that in future posts. But for now, I’m allowing the rage to surface.

My husband could tell that something was bothering me earlier in the week, and so he asked me what was wrong. I turned to him and the words came forth like a flame, “What the hell is wrong with our culture that this keeps happening? Why do we continue to produce emotionally underdeveloped men who think it’s their right to do what they want with women’s bodies? I’m so mad. I’m pissed at male culture. Honestly, I’m pissed at men.”

Telling the truth about my rage has opened up all sorts of deeper questions in the days that have followed that declaration. If I’m pissed at men, how does it affect my relationship with my husband, my fathers, my brothers and male friends? How does it impact my parenting? What am I really mad at within male culture? What is at the root? And ultimately, what do I do with the anger? Because that’s the hope — that anger can compel action toward a greater good, that it can generate movement or growth or transformation once it’s expressed or revealed.

Once again, I’m reminded that the first step is always deepening our awareness. It’s letting what has been unconscious, or subconscious, come into consciousness. So I’m swimming within that process, letting it do it’s thing. And then I’m sure even more will rise up. Who’s with me?


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