It has taken me a while to pull my inner strength together in trying to make sense to you and your readers what the background to my poetry is really all about.
When I was young, any perception of defiance by me was met with a severe emotionally abusive scolding, often followed by a beating. The most humiliating ones were when I had to go outside and find my weapon of punishment. Once I recall being sent out three times because the sticks I had chosen were too small or too frail. I was told to find a good stick for whipping so I would learn my lesson well. If I failed to find the appropriate stick again, then the punishment would be even fiercer. I felt ashamed, horrified, terrified, and desperate to get it over with while at the same time desperate to disappear from the face of the earth. My overwhelming embarrassment during the spanking ritual was discounted – I remember the intense shame I felt at having to pull down my pants and panties “all the way” to my ankles and then bending over to receive the beating. It left me feeling sexually violated as I was naked and exposed - my buttocks, backs of my thighs and vulva burned with the pain of the beating. If I resisted at all I was assured that the punishment would be worse and I would be forcibly held down by the back of my neck to receive that which I was told I deserved.
What did I learn from all this? I learned never to ask why. I learned not to trust my own feelings. I learned I had no choices. I learned how to dissociate into another world the instant pain begins. I learned to smile and say thank you when others told me what a wonderful, kind and gentle man my father was. I learned from my mother that anything less than perfection was not acceptable. I learned to feel discounted and condemned. I was also told I was overly sensitive and mentally unstable (borderline personality disorder was my psychiatrist-father’s diagnosis of me) to become so emotional about trivial things. I was - and still am for that matter - berated for not accepting my mother’s harsh criticisms and opinions with the “love they are intended with.” As a teenager, I was told by my mother that her dearest wish for me was that I have a child myself who would be as cruel to me as I was to her so I would appreciate all her efforts to raise me well.
My earliest memories of childhood are memories of nightmares. I have been plagued by nightmares for over 40 years. In them I have been hunted, shot, ignored, rendered mute to watch horror and destruction, relived many beatings, been stalked by snipers, abandoned and ignored as I die - and unbelievably worse. After hearing my nightmare-induced screams neighbors fearing for my safety have even summoned the police to our house in the middle of the night.
Abuse tragedies seem to have a life of their own, often not felt till years later, as with my own experiences. This brings to mind what Alice Miller so eloquently wrote:
The truth about childhood is stored up in our body and lives in the depth of our soul. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings can be numbed and manipulated, our perception shamed and confused, our bodies tricked with medication but our soul never forgets. And because we are one, one whole soul in one body, someday our body will present its bill.
I continue to cope with pain – physical and emotional - by dissociation into what I call my “black box.” In that box, locked deep inside myself, my memories of pain are blocked. In that box I find the solace of disconnection from the world. In that box there is no past, or future, only the present moment. In that box is numbness. In that box is apathy. Unfortunately the only way out of that box is to use more pain as the key to reconnecting my mind and body and soul. And so, eventually physical pain is preferable to the emotional despair. Then I cut and burn myself in an attempt to escape the emptiness in that box. The deeper my despair, the deeper the cuts and burns.
I am a separated 47-year-old female with four children and a graduate degree. I have a full-time job in a public service field. I have been on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications for seven years. I continue to have difficulty expressing my emotions, particularly anger since in me the expression, or even the thought of expression, of these feelings leads to intense feelings of fear and panic. Rather than being able to release these emotions, I suppress them, and subsequently dissociate so as not to feel the emotional pain within. I cut. I burn. I cut. I hit. I cut.
My poetry, which reflects the life-long pain from physical abuse, subsequent dissociation, and self-injury, follows here: