Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Abuse of Power

The morning after the week before

Dancing in aisles around subjects
We wish we could avoid
Drunk with lust for power
Or sidelined as spectators
We are the worst circus in town
At war with ourselves in a script
Written in the heat of battle
Directed from the top down
Delivered on time or die the death
Of a thousand retributions

When did we become what we have become? Or has it always been this way?

In either case, we’ll get nowhere until we commit ourselves to listening and responding appropriately to the voices of survivors and to those who care deeply for their well-being.

As for survivors, we are many. Telling our stories matters. Listening to our stories matters. Working with us instead of against us makes a difference. So does ignoring, belittling or taunting us.

Recently I’ve been reading Intoxicated by My Illness, by Anatole Broyard. It’s about life and death. It’s also about his own approaching death. He’s brutally honest, funny, sad, thought-provoking and more. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re dealing with your own mortality.

Here’s a quote from page 68, revised to fit my gender. I don’t think Anatole Broyard would mind.

The dying woman has to decide how tactful she will be.

Anatole Broyard, Intoxicated by My Illness, p. 68
Compiled and edited by Alexandra Broyard
Published by Ballantine Books
© 1992 by the Estate of Anatole Broyard

Yes, this is about the way I deal with myself and others. I’m dying a bit each day. It doesn’t matter whether I have a diagnosed terminal illness. I don’t have time to beat around the bush or hide behind polite niceties. Or promise to do things I know I cannot do.

This also has to do with this moment in our nation’s history, and the importance of survivors speaking out against all odds. I still have a few things I’d like to add to the conversation. How about you?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 October 2018

Choosing to embrace the possible

Several weeks ago I finished reading Dr. Edith Eva Eger’s riveting memoir, The Choice. Dr. Eger is in her 90s. She’s a psychotherapist and a survivor of the Holocaust. One of thousands, including her entire family, rounded up by Nazis and sent from Hungary to Auschwitz. This is a 5-star book, well worth reading.

When it appeared the Nazis might not win World War II, Dr. Eger, a young Hungarian Jew teenager, was evacuated from Auschwitz. Eventually she ended up in the Death March of young girls who walked to a prison facility at Gunskirchen in upper Austria. Many didn’t make it.

Dr. Eger begins and ends her memoir by describing her work with several types of clients suffering from PTSD. Each had a different version of PTSD; each had to unravel the tangled knots of past histories; each had to find within him or herself the courage to change.

After recounting her own story, Dr. Eger describes the way these cases challenged her to understand more about her own traumatic experiences as a young Hungarian Jew. Recovery from PTSD isn’t over until it’s over.

The map of Dr. Eger’s journey from Hungary to the USA is convoluted, filled with high personal drama and heartbreaking choices. Some would call it a page-turner. I could only take several pages or short sections at a time.

Here’s what grabbed me: The one thing Dr. Eger did not want to do was, in fact, the most important thing she had to do to be at peace with herself and those she most loved.

This got me thinking. If she still had unfinished work even after she was a well-known, sought-after psychotherapist, what might that mean for me? What have I missed seeing back there in my history?

Short answer: I missed seeing my lost self. Not my family history or my father’s abusive, unyielding treatment of me, but myself! Yet there I was. From the second month of my mother’s pregnancy until I was 10-months old, my father was not a daily presence. He was in a TB sanatorium somewhere, fighting for his life.

Those ten months are a small piece of ground that belong to me. They aren’t marked by his attempts to beat anger out of me and make me into a tame, submissive ‘good girl.’ It’s not too late to take care of that young infant in me. The one I overlooked for so many years.

I highly recommend Dr. Eger’s book, even if you’re only interested in a no-holds-barred, first-hand account of part of World War II. On the other hand, you might also find a bit of your lost self along the way.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 October 2018
Image found at mdmemories.blogspot.com

chilled blood huddles

chilled blood huddles
beneath waves of hot anger
shot from unchecked mouths
with deadly accuracy
the clock ticks down to nothing

I wrote these words on Friday evening, the day after last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings of Dr. Christine Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. The poem attempts to capture in words the look, sound and feel of time running out.

But for whom is it running out? I don’t think we’ll know that for a while, no matter how this plays out.

In the meantime, I understand this about myself as an adult survivor of violence toward women:

My responsibility is to take care of myself,
not to change the culture of violence toward women

I didn’t think this up by myself. I heard it in a public radio interview with a woman working on behalf of sexually assaulted persons. Her comment rang true, given my sense of despair and hopelessness.

I need to keep the focus on my sanity and health. Take care of myself.

The images and words I saw and heard during the Judiciary Committee hearings took me right back to the meeting with my parents in 1993. When I left that meeting I knew I couldn’t change my father’s attitude toward me, or my mother’s loyalty to him as her husband.

Yet perhaps I might make a difference for other survivors, or even for a few perpetrators. I still think that’s possible.

Most difficult is the high level of commitment I need just to take care of myself. Daily. Especially as I age. And then there are those unpredictable bombshells that keep hitting the news.

So here I am, still committed to telling the truth about myself. Not simply as a survivor, but as a thriving adult woman given an opportunity to make a difference, beginning with herself.

Thanks again for listening.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 October 2018

Memo to White Women in the USA

While the iron is still hot, I have a few things to say.

Yesterday I watched most of Dr. Ford’s and Judge Kavanaugh’s testimonies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Like Dr. Anita Hill years ago, Dr. Christine Ford stepped up to the microphone and told her truth. I couldn’t help thinking about my experience giving my ‘testimony’ before my father and my mother. Then, as now, it didn’t seem to end well.

Nonetheless, as white women, we have work to do with each other and with men and other women of good will. However, we must immediately consider NOT doing at least one or more of the following:

  • covering for white men who abuse us to our faces and behind our backs
  • believing lies about ourselves as incapable, weak, over-emotional or intruders
  • endorsing candidates for political office because it will keep the family ‘peace’
  • playing our childish popularity playground games
  • settling for lives put on hold until it’s too late
  • looking the other way or shading the truth to protect ourselves
  • going along to get along in politically or emotionally charged situations

Instead, we might try one of these instead:

  • Pick up the phone and dial 911 for ourselves, not just for others
  • Begin describing what life is and is not like for us as white women in the USA
  • Consider who really benefits from our white male loyalty
  • Speak for ourselves, especially when we hope someone else will say it first
  • Refuse to go along to get along in politically or emotionally charged situations

I wonder why, in this age of so-called ‘liberation’, many white women in the USA are still in bondage to the need for White Male Approval? What do we fear? Perhaps we’re so hooked on the power and prestige we get standing by our man that we can’t even imagine living without them.

The demographics of our country have changed dramatically, yet we’re still governed at the highest levels by a huge majority of white men, with occasional token ‘others’ that include white women.

I wonder what might happen if more of us step up to the microphone and begin telling the truth about our white female lives? Or, even more miraculous, when more white men in positions of power begin listening to white women, black women, tan women, mixed-race women, Jewish women, Muslim women, refugee women, little girls and big girls, teenage women and elderly women. To name just a few possibilities.

I don’t think most men know what they’re missing. More’s the pity, since women have things that need to be both said AND heard. Not with a dismissive nod or a patronizing pat on the back, but with resolve to become partners in change for the good of this country and those who inherit the messes we’ve made.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 September 2018

And what of those sinned against?

And what of those sinned against –
Bathsheba and Tamar,
The concubine cut up into pieces
By her Levite priest owner,
The two virgin daughters of Lot,
And millions of wounded women and men
Sitting in yet another dock wondering
How long their nightmares will last?

How can we beg God for forgiveness
And enjoy the fruits of mercy
Without even a nod to our victims
Who daily carry within and upon
Their embodied souls a lifetime
Of self-punishment as though they
Could ever atone for their broken selves?

They sit beside us in the pews (or not)
Afraid to tell their unwelcome truths
Terrified of whispers and innuendo
Choking on heaped-up tamped-down shame
And fear that they are indeed to blame
For predatory practices wielded skillfully
By church-going men or even women
Who now worship God freely and
Joyously believing all has been forgiven
When they haven’t begun to make amends
To those they harmed including themselves

I don’t have answers. Just questions this morning.

1. What does it mean to go to church carrying shame in a body meant to be loved and set free?
2. How do we begin to notice and reach out to listen and learn, not to fix what we may quickly decide is the true ‘problem’ when it isn’t?
3. Indeed, how do we come clean about our own unhealed wounds that will surely be exposed when we’re telling our truth?

The poem above comes from multiple experiences of being turned into ‘the problem’ I was not. Too often this was about my femaleness, which supposedly justified problems and attitudes that originated with others, usually men.

To all such people, including members of my family plus some pastors, employers and work or church-related colleagues:

Your problems are not rooted in my body,
my soul, my mind, my emotions,
my mouth, the look on my face,
or what I happened to be wearing that day.

On the other hand, I could learn from you if you’re interested and I’m not scared shitless. Otherwise, we’ll just keep soldiering on in our walled-off worlds, teetering precariously from time to time until it’s too late.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 September 2018

No other gods

Thou shalt have no other gods…

twilight of our small gods
descends over shallow water
teeming with refuse

ill-begotten secrets lurk
beneath ripples of shriveled minds
as once-buoyant hopes sink

ill-conceived saviors morph
into scapegoats scorned with contempt
mirrors of our self-loathing despair

Come unto me all who labor and are heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn of me;
For I am meek and lowly of heart
And you shall find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:28-29

There’s nothing magical about it. No overnight resolutions of pain and anguish. Just a re-orientation to the one who leads and accompanies us to God, who already loves and grieves for each of us.

Thanks to my blogging friend Yassy, for a poem and comment yesterday that got my mind going on this post. Check out her lovely poem.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2018

My Last Baby

It came to me a few days ago. Marie is my very last baby! And what’s so awesome about that?

I’m Marie! For those who don’t live in an imaginative mode, this may seem a bit silly. Even nonsense.

To me, however, it makes perfect sense. There’s a baby in me who’s been waiting for this chance to grow all her life. That means ever since she turned 10 months old in September 1944.

That’s when my father came home after 18 months in a TB sanatorium. I sometimes call him The Intruder because that’s how it was back then and throughout my childhood and teenage years. He was intent on beating anger out of me, the anger he said he’s seen and experienced from his own father. He said he recognized this anger in me immediately when I was a baby.

Things got messy. He recruited my mother as his ally, not mine. She became his collaborator, informer and secondary enforcer. This bred fear in me and outraged resistance coupled with strategic submission.

Things are different today. My parents are gone. I miss them. Yet I don’t miss their collaborative ways that continued when I was an adult.

So now I’m pushing 75, and I get to raise baby Marie! Yes, she’s a baby doll. She’s also a stand-in for that part of me that’s been cowering inside, afraid of her own voice and terrified of punishment.

Here are several things I’ve pondered these last few weeks.

  • What do I know about my mother? What did she bring to our relationship that might help me understand her–before and after my father returned as the one and only Head of the House?
  • I have the same question about my maternal grandmother Zaida. She ran off with a wealthier man when my mom was very young, and, given her habits, didn’t know how to be a mother.
  • How deep is this hole or ache in me that wants to be filled? Are there women or men who filled parts of it when I was growing up?
  • And what about behaviors and characteristics I lost after my father arrived with his agenda? So far I’ve identified things like openness and trust, a feeling of safety. No shame. A sunny disposition. Not afraid to fall or make a mess. Not afraid of most other human beings.

In some ways, growing old is a process of reverting to childhood. Becoming more dependent on others, more vulnerable to external and internal changes or challenges.

What better way, then, to envision Marie than as a baby who challenges me to become true to myself as I age? When I pay attention to Marie, including what she needs from me, I’m learning to pay attention to myself. And it isn’t so lonely anymore. Sometimes it’s even fun!

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2018
Photo found at pixabay.com

The Survivors

From her wheelchair
The frail old woman
Repeats her truth

Over over and over
Eyes bright with recognition
Insist on being heard

He made me alive
He made me safe
He made me alive
He made me safe
(He didn’t kill me.)

Memory frozen with truth
And lies she survived
Trapped in her past
Body drowning yet again
In yesterday’s icy waters
At the hands of the man
Now standing before her
In the dock –
Drowning in truth

I woke up today thinking about this woman and the doctor who experimented on her body, as told in “Ancient History,” an episode of Kavanagh QC.

Both are Jews, deported and taken to the same prison camp. He, a medical doctor, accepts an offer to run horrifying medical experiments on prisoners, or die. She is one of his unfinished experiments, saved in the last days of World War II. At what temperature could a living human being be frozen in water and brought back to life?

There were no winners. There never are. In addition, there’s a strange bond between these two prisoners whose lives are thrown together in a hell-on-earth situation.

This doesn’t mean choices made in hell-on-earth situations don’t matter. They do. But not always in the ways we imagine.

Sometimes they may show the content of our character, other times they might not. They may, in fact, show how terrified and helpless we are at the hands of our tormentors. And how much we want to live and die without being compromised.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 September 2018
Photo of Russian Jews arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau; found at collections.ushmm.org

Complicity and Rotten Apples

For decades I’ve listened to well-meaning friends and strangers telling me to get over it. They weren’t always that blunt, but I knew what they meant. Something like this…magnified through my own shame-based filters:

It’s time to move on with your life. We’re tired of hearing about the same old struggle. When are you going to get a life? Can’t you see how easy it is?!

I don’t fault friends or strangers who’ve urged me to move on. They want the best for me. All I have to do is walk away and don’t look back. The way many of them did.

Yet it seems I have nothing to walk toward except more of those heart-breaking, mind-bending head trips I’ve been on all my life.

Besides, it doesn’t matter what others think about me. What do I think about myself?

From grade school on, academic pursuits were my salvation. They kept me busy. They gave me something tangible to hang onto, plus a fleeting sense of self-worth even though I was running away or lost. I’ve known this for years. Nothing new here.

Recently a friend of many years suggested I’m still complicit with my father’s shaming and silencing of my voice. It still eats me up, from the inside out. Like a rotten apple, it tries to spoil the entire barrel.

She was correct. The shamed-based atmosphere in which I grew up now lives in me, passed on by my father. I have no doubt this is a generational gift of poison.

So I’m back to my childhood with this correction: I did not have a childhood. It was stolen from me before I knew what was happening. Instead, I became a substitute mother (to my three sisters), and grew up labeled as a ‘rebellious, stubborn’ eldest daughter who needed to have anger beaten out of her.

Furthermore, though I enjoyed my children as they grew up, joining in their childhood games didn’t give me the childhood I never had.

So…how do I find what I didn’t have, and how do I stop my internal voice that wants to shame me into silence?

Meet Baby Elouise! No, I don’t have a picture. I bought her over a week ago. Why? Because I’m determined to find and take back what was stolen from me.

My job is to love and listen to the little girl and adult woman I am despite all efforts, including my own, to silence or redirect me. Baby Elouise is helping me move in the right direction.

To be continued….

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 August 2018
Photo taken by Sherry Fraser Seckington, June 2016 – from their garden

Children at Longwood | Photos

On Saturday afternoon D and I helped celebrate family birthdays–four of them, within the space of one week! Our son (his big 50), twin granddaughters (18 years old, seniors in high school), and daughter-in-law (I’m not telling). Only their young son gets his own special day later this fall (15 years old).

All this family stuff got me a bit nostalgic. Hence these Longwood Garden photos taken in late April 2006. As I recall, this was our granddaughters’ first visit to Longwood. These were also the golden years when I was Queen Elouise and carried a sun parasol to mark my exalted status.

Looking at these photos reminds me of the tough work our son and daughter-in-law did to honor their children’s gifts and personalities. It’s never easy.

Yesterday I heard this on the radio: Having children doesn’t make a man a father. The statement clicked with me instantly. To it, I would add this: Being a ‘father’ or ‘mother’ of the church (as in padre, nun, priest, bishop, archbishop, pastor, youth minister) doesn’t confer or guarantee the ability to relate honorably to children or young people.

In the news last week: the Pennsylvania report about child abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic priests and their superiors. All of it covered up by people and a system that took care of its own. Plus, a few days later, reports about the Pope’s visit to Ireland and the legacy with which that nation’s population lives–as do many others.

I only wish it were possible to track similar behavior in Protestant churches here and elsewhere.

All this and more brought back my relationship with my father. He was an ordained Protestant clergyman, sporadically under the loose oversight of a governing body. I have more work to do.

For today, I commend men and women who work hard at parenting and foster-parenting. Especially when they don’t have many models or cheer leaders when things get more than a bit crazy.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 August 2018
Photos taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, April 2006

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