When The Levee Breaks

by Amy Martin (c)


Defenses are falling at last. Images have broken loose from my subconscious and are running amok in my mind. The soft-focus filter of memory shatters, its protective ambiguity in shards of broken illusions. Released is a flood of phrases that explode like hair-trigger mines: “there was incest,” “she tempted him,” “our special relationship,” “rape.” I feel under seige, battered by the emotions of war: anger, hate, terror, the urge to dominate, subjugate. I can not see my enemy, neither can I escape. Time has caught me, leaving me nowhere to run.

Each thought, image and emotion yanks my head about, whipping it back and forth in defense, denial and disbelief. I’m not ready for this! I pound my fists on the desk in front of me and then grab it as if my body will be flung from Earth if I let go. As each one of these nightmare images boils to the surface of memory, I try and run away. The pain of the truth engulfs me, collapses me into a fetal ball. Then another image tears through my consciousness and hurls me back in surrender to what my subconscious kept secret for too long. My body distorts as it accordians between child and adult, and my muscles ache to the bone.

These glimpses of the past bludgeon my entrenched denial, so real that I reach out to tear them apart. Each horrid realization, each shock-wave of truth, sends a crescendo of screams ripping from my lungs. The unfamiliar terror of the sound thrusts me backward against a nearby wall, striking it again and again with bruising force, until depleted by the pain of absolute emptiness, utter betrayal, final defeat. A great shuddering overtakes me. The sense of dread is overwhelming. Doom itself is here, and my surroundings grow black at its approach.

I know I can’t make it stop; this makes me shake and cry in fear. Nothing I say matters. I feel that my feelings are absurd, that it’s my problem, my fault. My anger, my resistance, means nothing; their anger is more, their authority absolute. Oh God, please save me. But no one saves me, no one hears me cry. Why won’t they hear me cry? Why would someone hurt me like this? How can this keep happening to me?

A huge weight is upon me, confident predator upon terrorized prey. I am being smothered, drowning, gasping for breath. I can’t scream. This doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t be. My trust is broken and nowhere is safe. Every muscle in my body contracts in pain. I’m doubled over as far as I can. I want to be a little ball, disappear into a little ball. I can’t breathe. Make this stop! Please God, I’ll be really really good. Make this pain go away! My soul shoots out of my body and into the sky. I cease to feel, cease to weep. On the ground below, my body lay battered and bleeding inside and I am far away.

My memory stills to a whisper. That’s when I really feel the pain. The emotion is too much. These feelings are going to tear me to shreds. I run to the door, but my tremoring hands can’t turn the lock. I sink to the floor, my hands still clutching to the knob. As if the gates of Hell opened to allow a glimpse of what horrors it entails and just as suddenly snapped shut, it is over. Too wounded to fight, too tired to run, I stagger to the bedroom and hide under the covers, battered and sobbing on the doorstep of my soul. And this will be just the first of the rememberings.


Amid the Flotsam and Jetsam of a Battered Soul

At age 36, on a warm Winter Solstice afternoon, with finches and cardinals feeding in the forest outside my view, I had become a child again, a child consumed with incredible terror and pain, a child who could not scream, a child who no one believed. Years ago I held my pain inside; now it poured out in tangible, targeted rage. My family of past was a mirage, and I lay alone in the barren landscape of childhood when a child has been betrayed.

In the desert that winter’s day, there were a number of illuminations which cast some insight into It, whatever had been haunting me all my life. This inner torment I appeased by seeking high after high, which left me emotionally numb and devoid of dreams at night that might let the truth sneak out. Until my marriage to a loving man, adulthood had been a tango of self-sabotage, full of passionate partners and unhappy endings, all the time searching for something I could not identify, yearning for an oasis I’d lost, or perhaps never had.

Yet the truth had broken through. Finally everything was starting to make sense; my demons had names and histories. There were things about my family past and present which were dovetailing way too neatly with these terrifying images. For those who patronizingly repeat the adage “Children are amazingly resilient,” now listen up: You’re wrong. We’re just inept at committing suicide. By the time the skills of adulthood come along, we feel too afraid or guilty to complete the act.

For an incest memory to struggle up from the deep unconscious to waking conscious thought, past all the layers of guilt, denial and pain, through all the rationalizations and mental compromises, is an odyssey no less heroic than Demeter’s rescue of Persephone from the underworld. The quest to confirm or disprove these intrusions from the past, to grasp the grail of truth, rivals that of Odin for the runes of knowledge. It is a search for transcendence, to transend the past.


Toward a Future Free of Domination

Abused children are forced to reinvent our past to make it something we can live with in the present. The walls of the fantasy castles we build are thick and strong, forged with bricks of pride and determination, the armour of a survivor. But it gets lonely in the tower when we grow up, stuffed animals no longer spring to life and imaginary friends come calling no more. The handsome prince never arrives to save our Rapunzel selves, or when he does demands not that we let down our hair, but that we storm the stairs and face the ogre ourselves.

To refuse such a plea to bond emotionally means your pride goes before a fall. Still able to trust only yourself, time passes, water erodes, castles crumble. Cracks in the mask appear and the facade comes tumbling down. We are left alone in the rubble of our emotional artifice. Time’s one-way arrow is liberated to flow once more into the future. For the first time we can feel without fear. Yet even such freedom does not make a satisfying win because it does not heal the wounds. Only breaking the chain can do that, change and the passage of time. A generation waits to see if we have the strength to sunder these links of pain.

From incest, rape and sexual abuse, to schoolyard bullies and the terror they wage, to nation upon nation in war, it’s all about dominance, about exploiting leadership and trust, about what constitutes the true definition of power. Only when power is so differently defined will we value our children as people, not property. Only then will we live in peace and prosperity to enjoy the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that is this nation’s promise for the world.

On my living-room table a white candle burns, lit in mourning for the lost childhood of mine and many others. It is the light which at the end of a long tunnel glows. A consuming anger, once diffuse, is now in focus and on target. Whatever it takes, I will insure that the chain of domination is broken in my generation.

Break the chain with me at One Billion Rising on Thursday February 14 at a location near you.



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