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Why Dig into the Past?
Many times, survivors are told by well-meaning but ill-informed people "Why dig in the past? It's over, get on with your life."
On my personal page, I wrote:"Some kinds of abuse are like scratches; a simple cleansing and a bandaid are all that is needed. Other kinds of abuse are like compound fracture; the damage can be healed only if immediate treatment is afforded. If not; bones, tendons, and muscles do not set properly - and even if the injury looks healed from the outside, the damage is still there; causing discomfort and even crippling pain years later. One does not apply a "bandaid" to that kind of injury; instead, the damaged leg (metaphorically speaking) must be rebroken and reset that it may heal properly.
In many cases, the mental, emotional, spiritual - and physical - injuries resulting from abuse are untreated compound fractures that never healed properly.
The following illustrates one such injury to me that I am still working on healing properly: Guilt. Guilt that did not and could not be resolved until I dug into the past...
A participant in a recovery newsgroup using the nickname "boy" wrote the following (used with his permission):boy wrote: >GhostWolf wrote: >: Yes, it IS good that the child and adult talk... some of the >: best break-throughs and recovery I've had are the result of >: really looking at who I was as a child, of looking at what I >: really felt then, and how that has shaped my life. The two >: are inextricably linked. > >This part got my special attention, because this is where I am >working on right now. I don't know if you saw my latest post but >it said something about the confusing feelings I have towards my >parents. > >My mom told me not to dig into the past. I want to know what >happened. But I don't know _why_ I want to know it. It almost >starts to become an obsession. > >Could you please explain me more about how the two, child and adult, >are linked? How did you experience this? > >thanks, > >boy
I posted the following in reply...
I believe that, in many if not most cases, those who vehemently demand that we not dig in the past fear what we may find. Their self-esteem is already low due to the shame and guilt they bear for past misdeeds and abuse, and they are not in a place where they can face it again or deal with it.
For many abusers - such as my maternal grandmother, reality is shakey at best, and it would not take much to push her over the edge. She is very aware of what she has done, and fears what I - and others - remember and what I may uncover. While the questions remained unanswered, and the past hidden, I did experience any peace of mind at all.
It took that "digging into the past" to give me peace, to decrease the guilt I've carried for so many years; for example, the guilt and grief over my genetic father's death - a guilt that contributed directly to my becoming a caretaker.
First, I'll describe what happened to create that guilt and how that guilt was compounded - using the metaphor, how the original compound fracture happened.
Following that, I'll describe what "digging in the past" revealed about what happened - metaphorically, this is the resetting of the injury that it may heal properly.
The Origin of the Guilt
Note: This section is written from the "pre-digging" perspective.
In late 1956, I asked my Dad to show me where he worked; that following Saturday he took me very early in the morning to show me what he did for a living. I was six and a half years old.
That part of the Mojave desert is well-known for very dense fog, and we left just as it was starting to get light outside, driving through that fog.
Halfway there, my father pulled off the road completely so he could smoke his pipe; he never drove while smoking it. He was leaning against the left front fender of the car when a drunk driver came out of the fog from the other direction, slowed down a little bit, and then crossed over the line to hit us head on -- with my father between the cars.
The drunk then backed up and stopped; I got out and ran to the front of the car - blood was everywhere; my father had been torn open from chest to crotch by the impact-- and he was still alive. I pulled him into my lap as he touched my face; I saw his heart beat twice. Then he was dead.
All during my childhood and teen years, I blamed myself for his death. After all, if I had not wanted to see where he worked, what he did, we would never have been on that road that morning, right? True, he could have been killed in a different accident, or died some other way - but he was there that morning because I wanted to see where he worked, and I had thrown a fit until he acceeded to taking me.
Then - in 1971, I got the first clue to what had really happened - but I didn't know it at the time.
The cult's master priestess had died, and I inherited her journals.
In those journals was an account of the members of the cult cast a "spell" to cause my fathers' death - one week before he died.
Yeah, right? Riiiight... Being the skeptic that I am, I brushed that off as so much hocus pocus - and admittedly, one hell of a coincidence.
Then, in 1973, the guilt over my Dad's death was compounded dramatically.
Like myself, my sister never forgot what was done to us - and like me, she took the (unsuccessful) approach "It's over, done with, get on with your life."
That approach does not stop the nightmares, dissociation, flashbacks, or abreactions. It became so bad for her that she tried to drown the pain with alcohol and drugs.
One evening in early 1973, she called me, pleading with me to come over to talk with her, be with her as she went through one particularly bad flashback.
I brushed her off because I just did not want to take the time. I had no commitments that night, I could have gone - but did not.
She wrote a suicide note, then overdosed on drugs and alchohol. Our legal guardians found her before she died and got her to the hospital in time to save her life.
She was in a coma for several months - and emerged from the coma blind, quadreplegic, and brain-fried. That was in 1973. She's still alive, still blind, still quadreplegic, with an IQ less than 60.
In 1982, my ex-brother-in-law - who worked at the same company I did, wanted to talk to me about a very tumultuous relationship he was in with a married woman who was separated from her husband. I brushed him off too; 2 hours later he was dead, murdered by the woman's estranged husband.
More guilt. And this time, a flood of feelings and sensations going all the way back to that roadside in 1956. 2 deaths, and one that might as well have been a death - all on my hands.
Those three incidents (among other things) shaped what became my "caretaking" mode; an intense determination - in all honesty, an obsession - to make sure that no one who asked me for help got turned away.
Sounds noble; but it is not. Caretaking is a very good way to avoid looking at one's own pains; to avoid dealing with and working through issues. (See Repercussions - Caretaking for more on caretaking.)
I was in a closed loop with no way out.
Until I started reading recovery-based newsgroups.
As I read the groups, I related to very much of what others had experienced; the sense of "yeah, I know that feeling" and "yeah, I've been there, done that"; and with those feelings came memories.
You know what that's like: you see a freshly-baked lemon-meringue pie, and all of a sudden, there's the memory of Grandma in the kitchen, beaming as she brings her blue-ribbon pie to the table.
Things like that.
It took 2 years worth of reading and participating to blow my denial right out of the water, to start healing those untreated injuries.
And; it started with me digging into the past to find out what really happened.
The Beginning of Healing
I started digging by talking to my maternal grandmother and my mother. I was taken away from my mother in 1959, and did not see her again until 1995. Even though I had regained voice contact with her in 1986 via the phone, she and I only acknowledged that she had verbally, and on occasion, physically abused me, and that she was remorseful.
It wasn't until 1995 - when I finally met her again face to face - that I started really digging and then asking other family members to confirm or disprove what my mother shared.
My mother shared much (and validated much in the process) about my childhood. In particular, she provided information I did not have and did not know.
The cult had indeed performed a "black magic" blood ceremony that was supposed to result in my Dad's death; that ritual was performed for the "benefit" of the cult's rank and file; they did not reveal to the rank and file what actually was done.
Mary Anne, who was Art's companion and the high priestess, and Uncle Ray, who was also in the cult, came down to the town where Peggy and I lived with my Dad and stepmother, and spent several days tracking my Dad's activities.
Someone supplied them with information for that, and information on the "town drunk" - which they used along with money and booze - to pay the drunk to "do them a favor."
The "accident" -
After the drunk backed up, he got out of his car and walked up to us. I was trying to put my Dad back together; I can still feel the warmth and wetness of my Dad's blood and intestines - and his heart - as I tried so very damned hard to fix him, to save him.
I looked up at the drunk, hoping he could help, but he was shaking his head, crying over and over again "I shouldn't have taken the money"...
I didn't know - then - what he was talking about, and did not find out until 1995.
He was the same man who had approached me at after school earlier that week, asking me if I liked "show and tell" in class; asking me what I shared.
When I said told him I had nothing neat to share, he mentioned that my Dad worked with explosives in the oil fields (my Dad was a part-time siesmologist among other odd jobs), and wouldn't that be neat if my Dad would take me to show me where he worked and what he did.
The drunk was set up, I was set up, used by my genetic grandfather, his companion, and the cult.
Mary Anne and Uncle Ray were at the funeral.
My Dad was murdered.
Those bastards used a child, used me to get to my Dad.
I no longer feel guilty about my Dad's death.
But - I lived with that guilt for nearly 40 years.
I still struggle with the guilt over my sister's suicide attempt and my ex-brother-in-law's murder. That guilt, however, has been greatly lessened by what I've learned by digging in the past.
So - Why dig in the past?
To heal. To recover; to uncover the truths that can eliminate the guilt and pain and shame that does not belong to us.
It's obvious now why my maternal grandmother and mother did not want me digging in the past; they know that I'll discover the truth, that they are responsible for so much of the hell I and my siblings had to endure - and they fear what I'll do with that knowledge.
How is the child of then linked with the adult of now?
What the child experienced gave birth to the guilt and pain the adult carries - crippling guilt and pain that resulted in dysfunctional actions as an adult.
Digging into the past resulted in the here-and-now adult comprehending the truth, resulted in the awakening of compassion, belief, and love for the child-then - and for the adult self - now.
It allowed me to finally grieve for the child I once was -
for the child I was never allowed to be...