Copyright © 2004 by Jenny H. and Survivorship.
All rights reserved. You may print out one copy for use
in your own healing. For additional reprints, write
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Copyright © 2004 by Jenny H. and Survivorship.
Closing Speech from Survivorship's September 2003 Conference
Hi everyone. I know there are many of you I haven't met, so my name is Jenny and I've been proud to serve on the Survivorship Board of Directors for the last year. I'm a survivor of satanic ritual abuse.
I started remembering the cult abuse about sixteen years ago, and it sent me into a deep, daily crisis, which lasted about three years. During that time, the movie Born on the Fourth of July came out. I love movies of all kinds – blockbusters and artsies alike, but friends warned me that this one was probably too violent and disturbing for me.
I waited a couple of years, but for some reason kept this movie on the brain. I don't know why I was compelled to watch it, but one day when my roommate was out of town, I got myself some nurturing food and rented it.
I watched the Tom Cruise character, young and patriotic, experience the atrocities committed by his own countrymen, in fact his comrades-in-arms. My friends had been right; these atrocities were reproduced realistically and it was terribly upsetting for me. But for the first time perhaps in my life, I watched the violence without closing my eyes or shutting my ears. I bore witness and I cried.
The Cruise character returns home from war deeply confused, disillusioned, and with a hefty case of post-traumatic stress disorder. I watched him try to continue the functions of normal life when memories came from nowhere and washed over him, blotting out the current reality around him. Anxieties confused his mind, blocked him from performing life as he wished. I watched him grapple with what he had seen, which was shattering in and of itself, but also with what it meant, about people he knew, about his country, about his species. He had to integrate information into his worldview that he could not bear. At the end of this movie, I sat stunned for some time.
Let me back up a little bit. When I first began to realize that I was a ritual abuse survivor, many emotional, but also intellectual, problems emerged beyond that of reliving rape, torture, and murder, in some cases of myself, and some cases of other human beings. I could not bear these memories, because as most people here know, they don't return as memories, but as the experiences themselves, being experienced all over again in the now. At the same time, though, I was reeling from the understanding that members of my family did this. And even harder was the process of wrapping my brain around the fact that anyone did this. That any human being could do this to a child, or any other human being, or an animal.
And of course, I woke to find myself living around, loving and loved by, people who had not seen these things, who did not have this knowledge forced on them, whose realities did not include this, just as mine had not in my conscious world. More importantly, although they supported me and "believed" me, they did not want to include this information in their view of humans, the world, and what they could possibly encounter some day in their own lives.
I had always felt profoundly different from other people. As a child, I was aware that my reality was only partially in synch with that of others, and that a more intense, vivid, and demanding reality lay below the surface, one which was not shared by much of my family, or by my peers, teachers, television shows, or reading books. Although this reality was separated from the other, and later firmly restricted to my subconscious, it continued to inform my identity – my world was not normal.
The first time I attended an SIA meeting, I felt a burst of relief that grew with each successive meeting. You feel that way??? Me too!!! You have that weird quirk too?? Wow!! I'm not that weird – I just have normal responses to weird things. But even here, I was different. I had not just been abused, but had seen things that were too bizarre to believe, too horrific to burden another with, too cruel to be true.
Okay, now, re-enter Tom Cruise. "Born on the Fourth of July" stunned me because I realized in two hours, thanks to Hollywood, that there's actually nothing weird about me. Here in America, and certain other cultures too, we have trouble with unsightliness. The 50's hit us hard, and until recently, no one died, no one had sex, our old people went away to be old and wrinkly, and our children all had idyllic lives. No one was an alcoholic, no one abused their family, and women weren't raped, just seductive. Our boys in uniform went to scary foreign countries (where, by the way, some of the above was feared to have happened!) and did only what was right and necessary, with God on their side. And heaven knows our government never lied to us. Small wonder then that we've had a little trouble going that extra mile to believing the whole cult MK-Ultra thing.
But you know what? Regardless of whether you live in a culture that talks about these things or not, or what era in history you live in, the following is true: People are imprisoned wrongfully and raped for years. Occupying soldiers murder and rape the men, women, and children of a town. Women are placed in rape camps. Governments kidnap people and torture them until they die. Children are sold into a life of imprisoned prostitution. Etcetera
And what are these people to do if they survive? What are their loved ones to do? How do they go to the grocery store, laugh with neighbors, read a book, mend their farm equipment, shine their shoes? Well, I've read that a common phenomenon among childhood Holocaust survivors is that, as adults, they will never speak of their experience. Their children may be aware of a shadow of their parents' past, and their spouses are aware of their husband's or wife's lifelong melancholy and terse silence. But the barrier cannot be crossed.
I knew a woman once who, in her late fifties, remembered that, as a small child, she had been grabbed on her way home from school and raped by a group of bigger boys. She ran home afterward crying, to her mother, who listened carefully to her story. She removed and threw away her daughter's torn and dirty clothes, and gave her a bath. She then sat her daughter down and said, "Now. We will never speak of this again." And they didn't.
These are not ritual abuse or mind control survivors, per se. Nor are the millions of people in Central America who were tortured, or their entire families tortured and disappeared by the CIA and the local death squads of the 80's. Nor are the Korean comfort women, now in their later years, who were kidnapped by their own government to serve as vessels for the sexual needs of hundreds of Korean soldiers per day, then released if they survived, and told that they were true patriots, but that their imprisonment had never officially happened.
And all of us, how are we to live? Are we to believe the programming of the cults, the bullshit of our governments, and the dread fear of our cultures, and walk through life as if we were a tragic and incomprehensibly out-of-place exception? Are we to walk around bearing the guilt of having been in the wrong place at the wrong time, of being a messenger to those who encounter us, bearing the unbearable news that we are not all living on Leave It to Beaver?
We are not weird. For those who have gotten through their lives without themselves or their loved ones encountering anything shattering, anything horrific, without being forced to bear witness to the most egregious sickness that human beings can demonstrate, more power to you. With all my heart, I do not begrudge you that innocence. But as my aunt, who spent years working with the Mothers of the Disappeared in El Salvador, says, "If they have to live through it, then the least I can do is bear witness, and spread the word." My husband has said as much as well, and I not only personally thank the universe for these loved ones, I respect them as human beings. Life is filled with joy, but that joy is meaningless if we do not acknowledge that it is transitory, and that pain may be just around the corner, just as joy itself is.
No, we are not strange, different, bizarre, unacceptable. This is a carefully crafted illusion. The truth is that, just as survivors often go through periods in which we can believe that what we know happened, did not – just for a little while so that we can get some relief, function, believe – our culture does the same. Certain layers of it must deny our experience, and in doing so, it feels to us that we ourselves our being denied. But as we all sadly come to accept, denial is just that. It's a denial of reality. It's not the truth.
So what are we doing here, then? Are we just a thorn in the side of our culture? Are we just the denial-busters, the bad news bearers, the folks who rain on the parade?
All of my life, people, sometimes those who barely know me, decide for some reason to tell me their problems. I seem to be a walking receptacle for secrets, shames, unbearable truths, and sources of grief or confusion. It's impressive to me the number of survivors who have said the same of themselves. Now why is this?
Speaking for myself, I can say with absolute clarity that I would joyfully have bypassed the experiences of being in the cult in my childhood. I would, without a moment's hesitations, give up any depth of character I possess in exchange for having lived one of those horror-free lives I mentioned earlier. But I was not given that option. And as my husband says, if you are, in fact, a basset hound, you can't just turn yourself into a mindless, peppy golden retriever, no matter how much as you might wish to be one.
I am what I am. I saw what I saw, and I cannot unsee it. I cannot not know what I know. Mostly through luck, but also my own wiles and the truly astonishing capacity of my mind to adapt to the unbearable, I have survived. I have borne my own terror and sorrow as best I can, and though I have fallen, I have gotten back up. So, to the rest of humanity who share something like our experiences, I embrace you. Because I have seen what I have seen and felt what I have felt, I can hear you. I can bear your sorrow and your terror, whatever it may be. I can sit with you while your loved one dies. I can attend your birth. I can listen to your greatest pain.
I am not living in a different reality, far from my peers and fellow citizens. I am living in the truth. And because I live there, I can hear the truth when others must share it in order to heal. I can hear the truth and tell the truth so that our species can heal, can grow and move forward. For how can we move forward if we can't acknowledge where we are? And it's not necessary that I am an activist, that I am a vocal survivor. There is no obligation that comes with making it through the unthinkable. I am here. My survival is enough. If others have always intuited that I might be responsive to their secrets, their pain, then it is likely that each of our presences on this earth is healing in and of itself, for reasons we may only sense though not identify.
And if it should happen to be part of my healing process to tell others what happened to me, to vote with a survivor's conscience, to picket companies which promote torture, if my healing – and only that, my own healing – compels me to expose a perpetrator or write or paint about my experience, then I am helping to heal humanity this way as well. Helping perhaps the generation after next to be less likely to be abused and more likely to tell the truth, so that we humans can look full in the face what we are and what we must overcome, and tackle it honestly and bravely.
Our survival is extraordinary. Our experiences are not. We are human beings, standing side by side with other human beings who have seen things we cannot bear, felt things our bodies could not endure, and been saddened beyond measure by the capacity for cruelty that some others of our kind not only have, but enjoy. And we are in the majority. Let's hold our heads high, tell our truths when we wish, and help others to heal if it helps us to heal. But let us not believe the lies we are told about ourselves and our roles in our world. We are members of humanity more truly than those who live in lies. And because of what we know and what we have borne, and the gifts we offer to our sisters and brothers on this planet just by being here, we are powerful beyond measure. As bearers of truth, we are not just valuable; we are essential.
I want to thank each and every one of you for coming to this conference. I know for some of you it required an enormous dose of courage even to show up. For our partners and our therapists, thank you. I know that you are here because, perhaps even more than we ourselves, you recognize what I have been saying, and you share our belief in the value and beauty of the truth and the courage of those who tell it. This community is such a blessing to us all, and I hope you will all continue to help us, just by your presence, to strengthen and build it even further over the next few years.