Messy houses, father hunger, self-care and saying NO: Understanding what lies behind women not reporting sexual violation #addiction #alcoholism #fatherhunger #mentalhealth #mentalillness

November 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

My house is a shambles. The dishwasher broke last week and both Husband and I were working too many hours to do anything about the kitchen. I took pictures this morning because it is in an almost comical state of chaos. You know when there is no counter space left to stack the dirty dishes that you have a problem. In the front hall you will find: a garden cultivator, pressure washer, rubber boots, work boots, household shoes, random socks and work gloves, a crate of dog toys, dog pack, various dog leashes, shawls, coveralls, work shirts, and a drill. In the living room you will find a roof rack that didn’t fit and has to be returned, a new drain hose for the dishwasher to be installed, stacks of papers from the recent flurry of tax preparation, mortgage renewal, and dissertation writing, a dog bed with a 14 year old fox terrier curled up asleep and our 85 lb shepherd x curled up on the couch. There are also dog nail clippers, empty coffee cups, and various charge cords for our digital devices. In the dining room it isn’t too bad: a basket of clean laundry, a tidy stack of dirty dog dishes and kongs, a stack of carpentry magazines, a few stray receipts and a milk crate of miscellaneous digital equipment ready for recycling or drop off at free geeks. Although I got the laundry put away last week, there is now a mountain of dirty laundry to get cycling through the washer and dryer. The dog hair bunnies on the stairs fill each and every corner and gather in clusters under the grand piano.

Yes. It has been a busy week.

Sometimes my thoughts stray to my father, and I wonder if he is ever going to contact me to discuss these ‘hard feelings’ that he apparently is holding against me. I think it more likely that he is going to do nothing about the situation and hope that I will pretend nothing has happened the next time we encounter each other at a family gathering. For myself, I am feeling pretty good. I made good headway during my break from relating with him, and now I don’t have to think about re-connecting because I have already taken that step. The next move is up to him. I will be very surprised if he can do anything about it. I have resigned myself to the reality that I am un-fathered, and I have lived my life with a gnawing father-hunger that drove me to make unwise decisions and put myself in dangerous situations.

I have been following the case of Jian Ghomeshi and all the women who made unwise choices for their own self-care and ended up injured by his mental disorder. I can imagine being dazzled by his attentions if it had happened to me at a younger age. I can imagine getting myself into a situation where I had gone to his house, the door had closed, and he had turned on me with violence. I can imagine not being able to respond, not having the background of self-care, self-worth, and practice of standing up to a man who I viewed as more powerful than myself. I wonder, if we looked at all the cases of women who were injured by him, if we would find patterns of father hunger in the stories of those women. I wonder, if we were able to do an in-depth analysis of their relationships with their own fathers, if we would find a history of being able to stand up and say, No! to their fathers, or if we would find women who would have done just about anything to finally have their father’s undivided attention, no matter how hurtful.

That is the part about this story that I find fascinating, and that I find a yawning gap in the ways the story is being reported or the comments being made. First, I think it goes without saying that Jian Ghomeshi has a serious mental health disorder, however it might be diagnosed. Many of the stories being shared by these women describe an instant where he ‘snapped’ when the quality of their interaction turned romantic or sexual. It was as if, in private, the emergence of romantic or sexual feelings would trigger violence in him, and he would take it out on the woman who was with him. His own writing and defensiveness show that he is not aware of how his sick brain is telling him he is not sick. He seems entirely confused about what constitutes consent. For example, having a woman show up at his apartment for dinner does not constitute consent.

For these women, and we have no idea how many there are, my heart goes out to them on their healing journey. They have not only been abused by one man, in one, or more circumstance, but they have also been abused by a society that dismisses their injury, blames them for the circumstances that led to their injury, and protects their abuser. The Twitter thread, #BeenRapedNeverReported, provides a glimpse into the widespread injury and suffering of women who have suffered the indignity, disrespect, disregard, terror, and wounding of sexual assault, and why they never reported it.

I have my own terrible, personal history with this issue, but from another direction. The cause was the same, but the consequences much worse. My ex-husband sexually molested my daughter. As the mother, you would have expected me to kick him out, get her the help she needed to process and heal, and get myself the support I needed to deal with the ramifications of his act. That is what a healthy woman would do, one who was trained to speak up for herself, who knew she had people in her life that had her back, who was used to asserting her needs and opinion with men, and who was confident in her own interpretation of reality and what her personal ethics, values, morals, and beliefs stood for. But I did not have that, and in the moment that I needed those qualities, all I had was a sense that my survival and the survival of my children all depended on me not upsetting my ex. I did not kick him out. Instead, my daughter went into foster care. I stayed with him for another eight years before I finally left him to go to a drug treatment centre. Even then, I was psychologically unable to take action on my own behalf. The only way I knew how to get out was to manipulate him into sending me away with the help of my drug and alcohol counsellor.

In the meantime, my daughter had suffered doubly. First, she had been abused by her ‘father’ figure, a horrific experience that caused long term damage to her psyche. Second, she had been abandoned by her mother, when she needed her support the most. I know from hearing stories of sexual abuse survivors that this second injury can be worse than the first. I have worked very hard to make sense of how I could have done this to my first born. What was going on in my own mind to make me reason out that the best course of action was to send her away. I have suffered much anguish over the years since, and I tried very hard to make up my wrongdoing to my daughter. I don’t know if she will ever trust me again. I would not blame her for that.

After many years of therapy and sobriety from drugs and alcohol, I can now look back and see that I was living in a continuous state of shock after going out on my own at the age of seventeen. I can see that I was groomed, and taken in, by a man with a serious mental disorder, and I stayed because I could not imagine any other course for myself or my three children. I stayed in that marriage for eighteen years, despite mounting evidence that the man I was married with had serious, chronic, ongoing issues. Once again, I cannot diagnose what he suffered from, but I believe it falls in the realm of personality disorder, anxiety disorder, perhaps post traumatic stress, and addiction. Be that as it may, by the time I met him, at the age of twenty-one, I had a year and a half old daughter, living on social assistance, working to get my high school graduation, without any support from family. I was extremely vulnerable to his charms, and unable to make well-considered decisions because I had no one to talk to, to reason things out, to assess the situation.

I realize I have wandered far in this post, and I suppose the thread of continuity is the way women are groomed to be vulnerable to the charming attentions of very sick men, and then, when they find themselves in over their heads, have no resources, internally or externally, to help them change course.

It is useless to blame these sick individuals for the harm they cause us, they are no more capable of perceiving their wrongdoing as we are. It all seems somewhat normal until that first, shocking slap. And then, what do you do? You haven’t been trained to talk to anyone about your life. You don’t even know that you have anything to talk to them about, as the redness of the impact fades and the faint hope that he might be the one re-asserts itself.

As a society, we have a very long ways to go to address the issues of mental health and what it means to be mentally healthy. We have an economic system that rewards the mind states and behaviours that are deeply destructive to mental health, spiritual wellbeing, and physical strength. We are only barely becoming attuned to understand how social systems of hierarchy based on birthright or gender instead of ethical, moral, or collective conscience, are undermining the very basis for societal health: a sense of community and connectedness, empathy for those less fortunate, adequate support systems for those who suffer, and equitable reward for contributing to the good health of society instead of individual accumulation of wealth.

I ramble, I digress, I avoid getting out of my chair to clean up my own messy house. Onward, everyone! May we all find work that is richly rewarding for the good of all concerned, and may we all train ourselves and each other to say, No, and to help each other find a new way to live.

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