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Monday, July 23, 2012

One last truth

My iPhone alerted me to "breaking news" from the New York Times.

The N.C.A.A. has fined Penn State a $60 million fine and a four year postseason ban in the wake of the child sex abuse scandal involving former head coach and convicted serial pedophile, Jerry Sandusky.

The Times reports that: "The fine was equal to the average annual gross revenue of the football program. The money will be placed into an endowment for programs that work to prevent child sexual abuse and assist victims. No programs at Penn State can be financed by the money."

Mark Emmert, president of the N.C.A.A. said that no punishment the N.C.A.A. could impose would change the damage done to those Sandusky abused, but “the culture, actions and inactions that allowed them to be victimized will not be tolerated in collegiate athletics.” 

" punishment....would change the damage done to those Sandusky abused....".

In my experience, that is something of an understatement. 

I have worked with adults who were sexually and physically and psychologically abused as children. Most call themselves "survivors" - not "victims" - of abuse.  They do not deny that they were victimized but they refuse to be defined by it, defining themselves, instead, as survivors. 

Many "recover" from the abuse and go on to live productive lives. The scars are still there. Nothing - no compensatory settlements, no lengthy jail sentences, no sex offender registry, no 'Amber Alert', no 'Megan's Law', no "Zero Tolerance Policies", no amount of therapy - will ever heal the pain that continues to linger.  

I have learned that, when you press, even gently, on that scar, you will get a reaction.

Some drink just a little too much, even though they are, for the most part, "highly functioning". 

Some self-medicate with other dangerous activities. Still others have compensated by becoming caretakers who burn out with sudden frequency and exhibit exaggerated signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Many are morbidly obese or vigorously (some say "religiously") athletic.

Some take refuge in highly regimented lifestyles like the military or religious orders. Others find comfort in firm boundaries and rigid, black and white thinking about just about everything.

Sometimes, it shows up in what some would call "quirky" behavior. They are just a little "eccentric". A tad "off base".  I know one adult woman survivor who panicked - literally broke out into a sweat - when she realized that her infant had outgrown her "onesies".

She had unconsciously thought of them as an "extra protection" for her child and hadn't considered what would happen when her infant could no longer wear them - until she could no longer wear them. "And here I thought I had completely healed," she lamented to me.

I sometimes find that if I scratch just below the surface of a pattern of sarcastic humor or the penchant for constant low-level bickering, or 'mood swings' - a flurry of creative activity followed by the incapacity to do anything meaningful or purposeful that are just within the limit of familial or cultural tolerance - what I'll find within is a deeply wounded child.

I continue to pray - and work and hope - for healing, but the truth is that a child never heals from this kind of abuse. Never. Not completely. 

How can any child "completely heal" from such abuse - such a fundamental betrayal of being human?

Shortly after the "breaking news" from Penn State, a reader of this blog sent me a poem she wrote in reaction to the news. The subject line read: "Because you call your blog Telling Secrets". 

She writes:
 ", maybe I'm just venting ... but there's a thing most people don't know, a thing that traps us in a self-defeating spiral into an abyss of our own making, and their making, somehow inescapable even when we speak, tell the secrets ... pray and try and fail ... use it if you wish ..."
She has given me permission to use her name. The poem is powerful. It is disturbing. It is painfully honest. It is her truth.  Here it is:
One last truth
Marthe Walsh

On the day Penn State paid a partial price
for protecting a predator, hiding
in silence a vile pedophile to keep
money flowing, protect a legacy,
institutional “honor” and a game,
a truth only a survivor can tell:
the “closure,” the “healing” you all so crave
will not come for those abused, no “relief”
no neat final chapter while this culture
deifies “winners,” dismisses victims
grubby, imperfect, trapped in the lesson
that liars forfeit pity, compassion,
all while teaching us to lie just to live,
lie, to keep loved ones from walking away,
lie, to therapists expecting “progress,”
lie, to stop seeming damaged, a problem
to those weary of the burden of our
tragedy, our failure to overcome,
make lemonade, become ever “stronger”
because it did not kill our flesh –not yet-
lie, to satisfy your need to believe
we’ve “outgrown” the nightmares, “processed” the shame
into an appropriate attitude
of fierce resilient positivity.
No, it was not our fault, but the assault
continues with every set of eyes
turned away, uneasy with our ugly
truth, reinforcing our unworthiness
with queasy silence or pale platitudes.
No one wants to “get over it” more than
we do, so we pretend to be okay,
lie, to you, to ourselves, hide our failure
to bootstrap, rise above, ever trust love.
We try to be like you, but that’s a lie,
mostly we hide … and pay and pay and pay …
Do yourself a favor: try not to make it "okay". Try not to "fix it" for her.  And, please, don't offer her any well-intended advice. 

She's been living with this, she tells me, for over 50 years. I suspect, no matter how solid and good and noble, she's heard it all before.

At any rate, this time, this isn't about me or you.

It's about her.

Just let her truth sit with you for awhile and then share it with anyone who feels self-satisfied about the punishment of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State or says something about "justice being done". 

I'm not saying that Sandusky - or any perp - shouldn't be prosecuted to the full extent of the law or that Penn State - or any institution, including the Church - should not be held accountable.

I'm not saying that the "justice system" didn't work in this case. I'm just saying that, sometimes, justice isn't enough.
Sometimes, nothing is enough - especially if our expectation is that someone will be "completely healed' after this kind of abuse.

I'm just saying that the next time you or I even get a whiff of child or young adult sexual abuse ........well.......remember this poem. Remember this scar. Remember this truth.  

Maybe, just maybe, if more adult "survivors" told their truth - felt that it was okay to tell their truth, even though it will make us squirm - there would be fewer victimized children.

That's my hope, anyway. It's all I've really got, so please don't try to take it from me, okay?

Truth be told, hope that this will never happen again is the only truth any of us have. It's a fragile truth and an even more fragile hope, but what else have we got, really, except that that fragile truth combined with that fragile hope will lead us to strong, preventative action.

Because Mark Emmert is right:  The truth is that nothing can change the damage done to those who have been sexually abused.


Muthah+ said...

Been telling the story for years. But all to often this is a story that either makes you or breaks you. It does change you for forever.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen, Muthah+!

heather said...

I agree that this does nothing for the victims. I've been irritated since I heard the news about the fact that this seems to punish students at the school now and future students just so the NCAA can claim that they did something. This is not justice.

Kay & Sarah said...

It is a shame that Penn State's football program has overshadowed it Academic programs. Most of us go to 'school' to learn; well the country has learned a great lesson this week. Let hope we can refocus on classroom learning and achieving great promises from books.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Heather and Kay&Sarah - the shame is on the administration of Penn State which valued money and status and sports over the lives of their students. Good students will - and should - go elsewhere.