Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Trauma

Coping with homegrown terrorism

I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned a bit about me. Not everything, but enough to know how I cope with homegrown terrorism.

My first thought is relief that this isn’t happening to me. Definitely a way of protecting myself from the truth. Whatever steals life from someone else, steals life from me. It doesn’t matter how safe I think I am.

My second thoughts are a form of spiritual distancing: I could or would never stoop to do what that person just did.

And yet…seeds of terror are in me. Not just as a survivor, but as a perpetrator. If not in outward deeds, then in attitudes and thoughts that lead to outward behaviors. For example: Perhaps I have superior judgment and wisdom. Or a special angel that protects me from things like this.

Worse yet, I believe I could never do anything like that to another human being. Indeed, maybe I wouldn’t do it that way. Yet I know that my heart is human, given to fears, insecurity, self-sufficiency and taking advantage of others’ weaknesses. Are these not part of the picture as well?

This morning I read Nan C. Merrill’s personal re-imagining of Psalm 10. Here’s what stood out to me. Please note that I am not absolving terrorists. Rather, I’m challenged to be honest about my own struggles as I relate to other human beings and to our Creator.

Why do You seem so far from me, O Silent One?
Where do You hide when fears beset me?
I boast and strike out against those weaker than myself,
even knowing I shall be caught in a snare of my own making.

When I feel insecure, I look for pleasure,
greed grips my heart and I banish You from my life.
In my pride, I seek You not,
I come to believe, “I am the Creator of the world.”

I even prosper at times:
Your Love seems too great for me, out of my reach;
as for my fears, I pretend they do not exist.
I think in my heart, “I do not need You;
adversity will come only to others.”

My eyes watch carefully for another’s weakness,
I wait in secret like a spider in its web;
I wait that I might seize those who are weaker than myself,
draw others into my web, that I might use them to feel powerful.

….Break then the webs I have woven,
Seek out all my fears until You find not one.
You are my Beloved for ever and ever;
All that is broken within me will be made whole….
That I might live with integrity
And become a loving presence in the world!

Excerpts from Psalms for Praying, ©1996 by Nan C. Merrill
Published 2003 by The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.

Praying your Monday is thoughtful and productive, if not always safe.
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 August 2019 

The Collage revisited

“Writing when Awake is dangerous.” I wrote this piece years ago, while Awake. When you get to the collage, click on it for a close-up.

*****

I agonized about whether to begin this blog.  Not because I had nothing to say, but because I was terrified.  Of what?  I’m not sure.  Probably the concreteness of truth.  Even though I lived with it all my life, putting truth out there in concrete words is different.

The words below are from my journal.  I made the entry on 19 July 2012, about 18 months before I published my first post, Dear Dad.  It’s a one-hour, non-stop writing exercise.  What you see is nearly every word I wrote—reformatted.  I made the collage in the early 1990s.

I’m at my desk, keyboard in my lap, eyes closed most of the time—except to check the clock.  The collage is on the wall just above my desk.  Nothing but bits and pieces cut out of old magazines.  It’s not a lovely work of art, but a crude icon.  It reminds me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

* * *

8:53am
Showing up.
Facing my fear and inhibitions.
All my life.
Small, invisible, insignificant, scared,
trying to fit in while desperately longing to stand out—
to be counted as somebody—
to make a difference.
A big difference.

Telephone ringing.
I’m a writer.  First.
Not afraid to let the phone ring,
to close the door,
to do what wants to be done.

Write.
Big.
Bold.
Unashamed.
More willing to live with the
consequences of big and bold,
than small and insignificant—
lost in the noise.

Shout it from the rooftop.
Hit the front pages of the newspaper.
Unavoidable and compelling.
A wake-up call not just for ‘them,’
but for me!!!!
Especially for me.

To tell the truth—
not for the faint-hearted
or for those like me given to
strategic choices of words that mask,
hide and protect the reality of what is—
whether we/I like it or not.

The truth not just about what happened
and is happening,
but the truth about what it takes—
the cost of belonging to the human race.
From the inside out—
not simply about them,
but about me.

Without fear or holding back;
without malice of mindfulness;
and without any agenda but one—
to bear witness in a way that
forges solidarity with others.

I’ve always wanted to belong—
to be normal—rather than strange,
set-apart, holy or the preacher’s kid.
The only way to get there, I think,
is to strengthen to completion
the bridge I can build
between myself and people I may never know.

A bridge of understanding,
of sisterly compassion,
of challenge,
and seemingly unending damage and pain.
A bridge of respect for survivors.
A bridge of honesty about my past
and the people who damaged me
and prepared me for the life I now live.

Am I looking for healing?
When that means acceptance, yes.
If it means pressing a restart button, no.
Things done and internal wiring completed
can’t be undone so easily.

If, however, it means healing
of my self as God’s beloved daughter child,
Yes.
This life was entrusted to me.
Not to anyone else.
Only I can live it.
Which includes/entails telling
the sad and sorry truth about growing up female.

Suddenly feeling drowsy.
Do I want to just stop and start over
on another topic/project?
Yes.
This feels way out of control and out of reach.
So yes, I have a strong desire
to put my head down and snooze.

(I just caught myself not sitting up straight.  Interesting.)

It’s now 9:15 am—
not quite halfway through this exercise.
I need to sit a bit and collect my scattered self.
I am a writer!

Centering Prayer.
Mindful breathing.
Surrender.
This is a practice I need as I write.

9:21am.
Back to it
Not sure where I am except for this:
To belong to the human race takes audacious courage.
Courage to do what doesn’t come naturally and is not always rewarded.
Bottom line:  Which price am I prepared to pay?
There’s a price for me either way.

Still struggling with drowsiness.
I ate breakfast before writing—
and now I’m struggling to stay present.
Feeling a tingly desire to go to sleep and not wake up!
Wakefulness—mindful wakefulness—
is worse than a nightmare.

9:26.
The clock seems slow today.
I need to just sit.  Drink Water.
Keep my body and mind awake,
open and receptive.

Drinking water.  Good.
I’m thirsty.  For what?
For something to calm my heart and mind
that wants to shut down just now.
Something to keep me going.
Alive.  Functioning.  Processing.  Growing.
Eliminating what is poison or no longer of use to me.
Water.

9:31am
The collage comes to mind.  I’m looking at it, getting teary.

The Collage

  • Life can be murder
  • Without Clear Proof
  • The Secret Within a Secret
  • DANGER
  • Somewhere in your house a battery is dying….
  • Lost.  Lost.
  • Failure
  • Stuck in Neutral
  • Defend Yourself
  • Sometimes you can tell what’s missing.
  • Much Less Than Meets the Eye
  • Someone Who Really Likes to Stay in Touch
  • For a Child’s Sake

The collage wakes me up!
Brings tears to my mind [sic].
This is reality.
My reality—about which only I can bear witness.
There’s no prettying up the truth.
There may be understanding,
but in no way is this a pretty picture.
Or a pretty story.
Telling it will not be pretty.
It will be dangerous.
And it keeps telling me it wants to be told!
Not hidden away like some shameful piece of my life.

I don’t like having to tell the truth
about things that may seem ‘sensational.’
They weren’t.
They were the sad and sorry everyday reality
of my everyday life.
Some things can’t be omitted.
To leave them out is to betray myself.
In some ways this writing is a plea for understanding.
This is who I am.
Late start telling the story,
but right on time in God’s economy.
9:51am

Journal entry written 19 June 2012
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 August 2014, re-posted 11 February 2019

Conversations that matter

On 21 April 2016, I broke my jaw and my wings were clipped. Not just by the broken jaw, but by a string of unanticipated health events that followed. Today it takes time to attend to my aging body.

So I often wonder what the meaning of my life is now. Why am I here? I know I’m going to die. So what about the meantime, in whatever time I have left on this earth? Is blogging it? I love blogging, but….

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a friend and former colleague at the seminary. Would I be willing to interview a seminarian working on her MA degree? The answer was Yes! Of course! Big smiles and happiness! A high point in my life!

So this last week I spent time on the phone with her. Lots of time. We didn’t talk about the fine points of my life as a pastor (which I am not). Instead, we talked about the not-so-fine points of my life as a survivor of childhood abuse. Especially what it took in my late 40s to begin the long process of healing while I was professor and then dean at the seminary.

Why was this conversation a high point for me? Because it let me know I still have something to say. Especially, but not only to women and men preparing for ministry in churches, or for leadership in religious organizations.

Blogging about my experience has been and still is part of my healing. Yet nothing beats a one-on-one conversation, or a small group discussion in which I’m able to talk about what it took for me to begin healing.

We’re all dealt cards we didn’t ask for, even before the moment we’re born. Going into a professional position or a new job doesn’t magically make all that disappear. In fact, it often triggers it. Understanding how trauma shaped and still shapes us is worthy of our best efforts. Not alone, but together.

I don’t know how this will play out. Nonetheless, I’m hoping for more informal opportunities in which my personal and professional experiences come together in surprising ways.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 October 2018

Inconvenient truth

Bad timing
The look on your face
The tone of your voice
Your choice of words
What you said
How you said it
And a thousand other
Inconveniences
Called upon as evidence
Against you and your kind
Will never withstand
The strength of truth
Spoken out loud
By just one survivor
With nothing to gain
And everything to lose
Including false shame

If I had to name my greatest achievements in life they are, in order:

  1. Seeking help from a psychotherapist for unrelenting IBS, depression, shame, anxiety attacks and more. I was in my late 40s.
  2. Setting up a meeting with my parents and reading to my father my two-page statement. In short, I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated or silenced by his beatings. This meeting took place on the eve of my 50th birthday.

The poem acknowledges the excruciating reality that there will never be just the right moment to tell inconvenient truth. Or just the right way. Or with just the right looks on our faces.

I applaud survivors of life-changing events, endured at the hands of others, who do their ‘homework’ and then speak out. As many times as needed.

We are an inconvenient truth in this nation.

We’re everywhere, in sight and out of sight. We want freedom from false shame, debilitating depression, anxiety attacks, and lies we tell ourselves about ourselves.

Many of us were violated as children or babies, before we were old enough to know what was being done to us. Often violation against us preceded our own violation of others. That doesn’t get us off the hook. It just clarifies the lay of the land and what we must do to make sense of what seems senseless.

We can’t change the people who victimized us. We can, however, give ourselves the gift of facing what happened to us, getting professional help, and learning to do what we think we can’t do to make amends to ourselves and others. No matter what the consequences.

A liberated voice doesn’t come cheap.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 Oct 2018

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

The Ring of Truth

Yesterday morning I brainstormed themes and titles for a post—all over the page of my spiral notebook. The page got more crowded by the minute. So I gave up, and began writing my Memo to White Women in the USA.

Today our national controversy is even greater than it was yesterday. For some it’s all about party politics and the next Supreme Court Justice.

For others, it’s about the need to take seriously what Dr. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Ford talked about. Right now, everyday women and their supporters are coming out of the woodwork. Galvanized. Ready to insist on truth no matter how much it may cost them personally.

So I’m back to my page of unused themes and titles. But first I have a challenge. If you’ve never written out your story, at least for yourself, I challenge you to do that now, not later. Not just what happened to you, but how it made you feel.

There’s power in the act of writing your story down. Making it visible. Word by word. Line upon line. As it comes out, unedited and raw. It doesn’t matter whether it’s poetry or prose. Just so it rings true to you. You don’t have to show it to anyone at all. Especially if they’re people you don’t trust.

I wept gallons working on what became some of my early posts. I also had a trusted professional who worked with me when my writing raised things I had to deal with. Sometimes they were about unfinished business. Other times they were about how to take care of myself. I highly recommend seeking trustworthy professional help. Especially when past experiences keep spilling over into the present.

So here are several titles without stories. Maybe they’ll get you thinking, or coming up with your own better titles for your story. They might even prompt you to begin a list of things you remember and wish you could forget.

The Ring of Truth
Against All Odds
Marked for Life
Strength in Weakness
This Woman’s Burden
Broken not Bent
No Prize for a Good Performance
I Dared Say No
At Great Cost
Free at Last
Daddy’s Little Girl
I Married a Predator
I Thought He Loved Me

Perhaps you don’t think this is all that important. Well….You’re important, and that’s enough all by itself.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 September 2018
Image found at India.com

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

cool midsummer breeze

cool midsummer breeze
reminder of things to come
balm for my body

Out this morning for a walk with D. Taking advantage of an unexpected change in the air. Thinking about what’s going on here in the USA and abroad. Especially in churches and religious communities.

Recent revelations of clergy sex abuse of more than 1000 minors in Pennsylvania have sent our state and religious communities reeling. Not a moment too soon, yet decades too late for victims robbed of their childhood, adolescence, and sense of worth as children of God.

This time it’s about priests, bishops and the highest governing bodies of the Roman Catholic Church. It could easily have been about ordained leaders in conservative and liberal churches of all Christian denominations, including those that claim not to be denominations.

Abuse of power has no boundaries.

In the meantime, thousands upon thousands of children, young people and adults wonder when and how this madness will end. Everything in us cries out for freedom, though many of us have believed the lies of our perpetrators:

  • This is for your own good.
  • You made me do it.
  • God told me to do it.
  • I can’t help myself.
  • This will bring you closer to God.
  • No one will ever find out.
  • This is our little secret.
  • You should be ashamed of yourself.
  • I can help you with your career.
  • If you tell anyone, I’ll kill your brother.
    …..

Our lives are precious. We’re here for a purpose. What’s yours?

Today mine is to spotlight the reality of this rampant non-secret that’s eating away at families, communities, religious and secular institutions. To think these things don’t matter in public life is to live on another planet. These aren’t private matters. They are public and private relations disasters at every level.

No, I haven’t given up on following Jesus. I have, however, given up the notion that what happened to me in my youth and childhood should be over and done by now. It’s never over and done. Especially when there are millions of other victims out there. Overlooked, uncounted, discounted and left to their own devices. From the outside, some get along better than others. Yet deep inside, competing voices vie for everlasting attention.

I know, because I’m still doing battle, though not without hope. My purpose today is to tell the truth, without loss of hope and with the most powerful voice I have–my writing.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 August 2018
Photo found at kalynskitchen.com

Misformed and misinformed

Misformed and misinformed
She emerges from childhood
Before its wonders take root

Sheltered from life and herself
Dim vision narrows down
Lest warm rays of truth find her
Huddled in unsafe cellars
Waiting for life to begin
Before it ends

The poem is about me and it’s not only about me.

Yesterday I listened to No Place to Run, a radio rebroadcast of an investigative report into foster care in the USA. The report focused on two young women in Texas. Their stories were eerily similar. I’ve heard similar stories about foster care here in Pennsylvania.

Each young woman (one still a child) was placed in a foster care setting. Both ended up on the streets, abandoned by systems that failed them. And both were betrayed by a political machinery determined to avoid or ignore the need to fund competent, monitored, successful foster care.

I applaud foster care parents who put their hearts and their energy into caring for foster children. I also applaud lawyers, judges and politicians determined to make a difference now, not later, with systems that work for the benefit of foster children and young people.

At the end of the day, however, I wonder whether I’m ready for the full truth about this shadow world. Especially since I’m routinely horrified at the latest revelations, already dressed up for public consumption.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2018
Art found at http://www.revealnews.org

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