Stolen Feelings

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I found out recently, on Mother’s Day actually, that my mother is ill; Lupus.  She paid my sister a brief visit, during which I’m told she needed oxygen …

I feel nothing.

I’ve tried in the last few weeks to get in touch with some sort of visceral response to this news, but I can’t.  And it isn’t merely that I lack the ability to access long dead feelings, the feeling themselves do not exist – and I’m coming to understand more and more clearly they never did.

From my mother I learned betrayal, pain, fear and abandonment – feelings, yes, but not the kind that lead a son to despair, or even compassion and concern, in learning that his mother is seriously ill.

It’s scary to think  how well she taught me, how easily I can give her now what she gave me then.  There is no conscious decision on my part, and maybe that is scarier still; my reaction is both ruthless and natural.

My mother sent my daughter a graduation card this week, I wasn’t sure what to make of that.   Her manipulations are legendary, and I’m wary of even seemingly benign or well intended gestures.  Is she reaching out now because she’s sick?  Does she really want to know her granddaughter?  Is it something else?  Is she jealous because Ed is now part of our lives?  I have no idea.

But I do know that, because of her reprehensible parenting, I don’t feel for her what a son should feel …

and I don’t think I ever have.

What It Takes To Forgive

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“I remember you being hurt at the picnic and crying. You had done something I told you not to do and got hurt. Instead of comforting you and making sure you were OK, I got furious and literally dragged you across the lenght of the park (Washington Park across the street and down the block from our house), down the block and into the house. I remember people yelling at me not to be cruel to such a small defenseless child and my telling them to “f  * off, you were my son and I treat you anyway I wanted.” That I own completely as being a real A.. hole. You were being just a 5-6 year old kid wanting to be a part of the grown-up games, not some piece of trash on which I could vent my anger.

 

Now the hard part, the violent uncontrolled spankings, these I remember most deeply. I don’t remember the specific incident where you lost control of your bowels; I just remember being told that it happened. I do remember spanking you so hard my hand hurt, not the physical pain I was causing you, and that my hand hurt after I was through, and for several days thereafter. That incident remained so deep in my heart that it was one of the unresolved items I had to face during counseling sessions later- coming face-to face with the horror of what I did to you. That took me a long time to face and accept all that anger in myself and to resolve NEVER again to do anything like that. And I never have!”

 

 

The text above is from an email from Ed I received not long after he first contacted me.  It was difficult to read, and until now impossible to process or respond to …

The incident he recalls from above – the one where his hand hurt for several days following the beating (I will never refer to this as spanking) he gave me is one of dozens such incidents – but he usually used a stick or a belt to beat me, telling me he wouldn’t use his hand because he didn’t want his hand to hurt … so much for the pain deep in his heart.

And the day of the picnic, after he got me home, stripped me naked and beat me with a belt so long, so hard and so violently I actually remember being afraid he was never going to stop – and when he finally did, he left me alone, in the bathtub, sobbing incoherently.  The trauma of that day will never leave me.

And as for his never beating another child – he hasn’t had the opportunity; his own grew up, and his step-son, Jeffrey, had his mother and father for protection.  Not beating another child required no resolve on Ed’s part to accomplish, no personal growth or discipline to achieve.

Ed,

Now …

tell me again how it is you knew you had done all of these things to me, yet you didn’t know why I cut you out of my life.

Or that you cannot recall the many MULTIPLE beatings you gave me just like those you’ve confessed to … or the day-to-day hell I suffered and survived just being your son.

Today – you need to confront this horror with me.  Therapist be damned – you know exactly who and what you were while I was growing up, and you know exactly what you did time and time and time again.

You want my forgiveness, and I want to forgive you, but for that to happen you have to get completely real and honest with yourself and with me.

The time for selective memory has passed, no more seeing yourself through the veil of isolated incidents.  You were a violent, cruel, rage-filled and terrible father throughout my childhood; you beat so often and so hard my fear of you was palpable; you (and Pat) are the cause of mental illness and scars no one can heal.

And for God’s sake, stop with the daft, “I didn’t know, ” nonsense; you were there when it all happened, hell you did it!   You lived the same life in the same house I did – every. Single. Day.  What you recall above should be enough for you to understand we aren’t discussing an occasional mistake made by and otherwise caring and devoted father – we are talking about the fact that you were an angry out-of-control father who heinously abused his children at every turn …

Child abuse, Ed.  Child abuse you committed over and over and over again.   

See yourself as you truly were,

and own your truth, all of it.

 

It’s All Black and White

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Last night, Rhonda and I had a serious discussion about Ed – but at one point I had to laugh at the absurdity of his interaction with me; he does not address what I say to him, he addresses what he chooses to address.  I laughed because it made me think of Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin in the Saturday Night Live Vice-Presidential Debate skit; “We don’t know if this climate-change-whosie-whatsit is man-made, or if it’s just a natural part of the End of Days. But I’m not gonna talk about that; I would like to talk about taxes.”

Case in point: Excerpts from email conversations

Me to Ed: “You can’t have an emotional connection to Bipolar Disorder – that will always be relegated to intellectual understanding, but you are supposed to have an emotional connection to me … and that can only happen if you own your truth, all of it, and share it with  me.  The blog pretty much makes my life an open book – there isn’t much I don’t talk about; I’d like for you to be as open with me as I have been with you (the world). What happened to me as a child didn’t just happen to me, it happened to all of us, and whether we like it or not, it still impacts our lives today … if in no other way than the work we are doing to reconcile.”

Ed to me: “I can’t resond (sic) to how what that has happened to you in the past tense, not knowing didn’t place me in a place os (sic) being concerned about the situation your were in. But asking me know how I have felt since knowing and being involved with you directly is an entirely different question and something to which I can address.” (still not addressed by the way)

Me to Ed: “The thing is, you did know – you know what you did, you were there, you did it, and sooner or later you are going to have to face the fact that the man you understand yourself to have been the day of the church picnic – the self admitted abusive asshole you were that day, is who you were every single day of my childhood.  You were an abusive monster.  This may take longer for you to face and address, I understand that; in the meantime I look forward to knowing how you feel about all of this now.”

“One  more thing, I don’t know how any father can divorce himself from his children completely – no matter how long it’s been since  he has seen them.  I don’t think you have any idea what it means to be a father if you were actually able to do that.  There is a very simple and fundamental truth in all of this: if you had been the father you should have been, nothing – no force on earth could ever have come between us.  I am that kind of father, and I would have been that kind of son if you had been who and what you should have been.”
Ed to me:  “I can address this easiest, I was in constant prayer and concern for the whole time. Marie can verify this. Each year we visited a old friend of ours in Sonoma and the 1st thing he asked and we talked about was you and Elizabeth, and those conversations usually carried me through the rest of the year for missing you both.”
He doesn’t address what I say, it is maddening.  And now I have another question for Ed:  that friend in Sonoma, what the hell did you tell him all those years to explain my absence from his life?  I can ask of course, but it will never be answered …
and if it is answered, it will be some version of “I didn’t know why you abandoned me.”  I told him when I did it why, and I’ve told him many times since then – and he was there when he was beating me for God’s sake!
He knows.
He has always known.
But when you delude yourself long enough, as he obviously has, you end up believing in things that aren’t true – the past gets rewritten.
If he were any kind of man, or father, at all he’d tell the friend in Sonoma exactly why his children wanted nothing to do with him. He’d also explain this to his siblings and anyone else he has had to discuss my absence from his life with over the years.
Ed is not the wounded, martyred father – Ed is the Abuser who left his children no choice but to abandon him.
And now, today, I want justice and the whole truth from him — and that, after all he has done to me, is not asking for too much; on the contrary, he is still getting off scot-free.

Terrible Legacy

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My father’s mother insisted that her grandchildren address her as, “Grandma Dear.”  Yes, I am serious – and this was long before Mommie Dearest was written or published.

This woman was lots of things, warm and dear nowhere among them.  Growing up, I was never permitted in the back portion or her house.  I can’t recall ever even seeing the bathroom, only the living room and kitchen.  She once told me, sternly, that she did not believe in coddling children, and the only reason she participated in my school fund-raiser was because she actually needed what I was selling; I could not have been more than six or seven.

Thankfully, we weren’t around Grandma Dear much – she and Pat were adversarial and my father himself didn’t have much of a relationship with her as I was growing up.  I remember her being pushy, demanding and obnoxious.

About the time I was to graduate from high school,  Ed won the use of a condominium on Maui for a week and he invited me to accompany him as my graduation gift – the trip ended up being a family reunion for Grandma Dear and her surviving children; I was the only family member of my generation in attendance.

Her children were beyond respectful of her as their mother – they revered her; acted toward her with a kind of sentiment usually reserved for a deity in religious worship. She demanded, they jumped.  She whined, they soothed.  Her every wish was granted, her every whim indulged. She was pampered and exalted, praised and adored.  She was not grateful for their efforts, or even kind to them – and there was no reciprocity of affection; it was surreal. I spent a lot of the week observing, and was appalled by what I saw – from her as well as my father and his siblings.  Her children drew no lines for her behavior; they had no personal limits of any kind – and she displayed no outward respect for them what-so-ever.

One afternoon, we all piled into a rented vehicle for a drive around the island.  Somehow, accidentally, I locked the keys in the trunk when we stopped for lunch.  Grandma Dear ranted and raved and raged at me for more than two hours because of this; it was an emotionally abusive, uncomfortable scene – and it largely ruined the entire trip for me.

After that day, I did my best never to see my grandmother again.  I saw her briefly at Ed’s apartment once – she was whining and carrying on because he had nothing in the refrigerator to drink.  Actually, he had several beverage options, but when he left to go to the market to appease her, I took my leave as well – and that was the last time I saw her.  I did not attend her funeral.

I know she was an abusive mother – Ed has told me that much about his childhood, but he, like so many abuse survivors do of the their abusive parents, makes excuses for her now.  His father was absentee, and he squandered the family’s money leaving her with worries and a house full of children to care for on her own.  From what I saw, her abuse never stopped, and he never drew lines for what he would and would not tolerate from her as an adult.

As far as Shockleys go, I’m unique; I see things as they really are.   I refuse to make excuses for the beatings my father gave me; he had a choice, and he chose wrong.  The same can be said of his mother — no matter what she was dealing with personally, beating her children was wrong.  She was an Abuser, and at least three of her children went on to abuse their own children.  The Shockley legacy is not Dear, it is nothing other than shameful, morally bereft and disgusting …

there is never justification for beating your child.

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Own Your Truth, All Of It

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The other day, in response to this post, my aunt Bev sent my wife the following message:

“Holy cow! I just read Tim’s blog.  Guess you can’t change the spots on a leopard, after all.  I can’t believe what an ignorant so-and-so Ed is.  Oh, wait a minute, yes I can!  I still can’t get the sound of Tim’s screams out of my head as he was beating him.  I don’t remember it happening every time I was there, but it happened a lot!”

My aunt is about ten years older than I am, and she was very often at our house when I was growing up – her support in recent months has meant a lot to me, and my family.

I’m coming to understand more and more Ed’s self-denial.   It isn’t that he’s denied beating me – he knows he did, but his recall is extremely limited.  My therapist thinks this is due to his unwillingness – ardent, decided refusal – to face the trauma of his own childhood, coupled with the fact that he beat me so often the events themselves have all run together in his mind.  There is also some serious cognitive dissonance: the man he sees himself as now is antithetical to the man he was in my childhood, and we are talking about his acceptance of the fact that he was an Abuser – a heinously bad father and human being.  Whatever the problem is, it is his to solve.

I’ve tried to be as kind as I can – tried to understand how hard it must be for him after all these years to be faced with an angry adult child who needs for him to revisit a past he has spent decades trying to deny.  But his alternate reality isn’t reality, and his rewriting of the story – to make it partly a work of fiction to ease his own mind, doesn’t work for me.  I have struggled and fought too hard to recover from my childhood to accept half measures – or anything less than total recall, from him now.  What he is doing is offensive, and it is insulting.

It really is puzzling to me — everyone who knew my immediate family – friends, extended family, teachers – even school administrators – knew he beat me.  And they all understand he was an abuser – it didn’t happen once, or even twice – he violently and cruelly beat me, often.

It is as though he takes some sort of refuge in not recognizing how frequently he hit me; to his way of thinking its easier to reconcile isolated events because those he can see as mistakes; the truth exposes him to be a monster – a man he just cannot admit to being. Or maybe he is just a  Stubborn, pig-headed Shockley.    If stubborn pride is the case, I can’t mean much to him …

And then there is the real possibility he made the attempt to reconcile – to the extent that he has, to appease the people in his life now. It wouldn’t look good at all – after they read this blog, or were informed of its content, for him not to reach out to me.  Was I a fool to give him this chance?  Perhaps …

what he does now will define him forever in my mind.

I Am Not Like Them

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I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve heard,  “the Shockleys are pig-headed, stubborn, obstinate or hard-headed,” — from Shockleys!  They wear this trait, this character flaw, like a badge of honor; it’s disgusting really – especially when we’re talking about their refusal to see and understand things as they really are.

They are arrogant – when few have any right even to be proud. Their legacy is abuse, denial and a refusal to see and understand themselves as they truly are.

I’m pretty upset today – I received an unsettling message from my cousin this morning – her sister, a survivor of heinous physical and emotional abuse at the hands of  their father – my Shockley uncle, had to quit her job because her depression had become so severe she couldn’t even get out of bed; she spends days at a time in bed now, lacking the ability even to shower or attend her most basic needs.

My father’s cruelty is well-detailed on the pages of this blog – he was no prize, but if given the choice between Ed and my uncle – who once locked his four year old daughter outside in the snow with no coat and no shoes for an extended period of time, I’d have to keep Ed.  I don’t recall my mother, as my cousin does of her own mother, ever telling my father to stop beating me because he was in danger of killing me, and Ed never beat my mother so badly she ended up in the hospital as a result — I also have no memory, again as my cousin does, of being directly told by my parents they didn’t love me and that I’d never amount to anything.  Yep!  In this case, I’ll stick to the devil I know – and that’s saying A LOT considering I grew up with Ed as a father.

My Shockley aunt has actually verbally assaulted my daughter, then she resorted to illegal measures to continue her assault when we blocked her initial barrage – this is the same aunt who believes her son with Bipolar Disorder has False Memories of her abusing him. Need I say more here?

Yes, the Shockleys are quite a clan; pig-headed, stubborn, hard-headed and let’s not forget abusive, vile, repugnant, cruel and generally not concerned with the feelings, needs or well-being of their children.

My wife refused to take my name when we got married, now I wish I had taken her’s.

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

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Child abuse is an insidious multi-generational process – it is so ingrained, so much a part of the Shockley side of my family, it is accepted as a matter of course, and is as natural as breathing.   No one questions, no one thinks, no one acknowledges, no one discusses …

There is an unconscious compulsion to repeat acts of abuse – to perpetuate the cycle, that exists until an adult survivor actively and with awareness relives the trauma of his or her own abuse.  It isn’t enough for a survivor to simply acknowledge trauma and abuse, or develop an intellectual belief that hitting a child is amoral, he/she must revisit the events of their own childhood – relive the agony and pain to effectively disengage from the cycle.  (Alice Miller, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence)

Survivors who don’t relive the trauma of their childhood, even if they somehow manage not to further the cycle with their own children, will turn their unresolved anger, frustration and pain inward, becoming depressed or developing mental illness(es) and substance abuse.  Even without being directly abusive to his child, this type of survivor subjects his family to the nightmare and emotional trauma of mental illness and addiction.

Still other survivors, due to their own repressed memories and refusal to acknowledge the pain they endured as a child on a conscious level, become blind to all abuse.  This is known as Betrayal Trauma (Jennifer Freyd, Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of forgetting Child Abuse) These survivors, almost without fail, go on to abuse their own children – then later, when confronted by their adult child, deny abuse or fail to recall everything they did out of an unconscious need to protect themselves from remembering the horror of their own childhood – a childhood full of pain they passed along to their child: Blind to ALL abuse.  These are the most dangerous survivors; they are the most likely of all to perpetuate the cycle.

Coming to terms with the maltreatment suffered as a child — be it physical, emotional or sexual — is the only way to effectively end the cycle.  When we manage to get in touch with own pain, fear, rage, frustration and anger, we no longer want to take it out on others.

Therapy is often the first step, and there are three distinct stages of recovery:  Remembering, Mourning and Healing.  In the first stage, survivors work through what happened to them as children.  The therapist emphasizes that the abuser was ALWAYS the responsible party, not the child — this is something we (survivors) have trouble dealing with on an emotional level; we believe our abuser when he tells us the beating is our fault, a belief that continues into adulthood.

In the second stage, we must grieve for the childhood we lost, mourn the fact that our parents failed us, betrayed us and hurt us.  It is in this stage where we begin to work on our own anger, finding healthy outlets for our aggression and self-destructive feelings. We begin to identify how our childhood abuse affects us today – things like having a mental illness as a result of the abuse, and we take inventory of the things in our lives we’d like to change.

And finally, in the third stage, we accept the fact that we have right to be happy.  We come to believe we deserve kindness, consideration and respect – things we were robbed of in our childhood.  We see our parents as they truly were, and we absolve ourselves of responsibility for their degenerate behavior toward us.

“As long as the anger directed at an abuser – always a parent or other first caregiver remains unconscious, minimized, or disavowed, it cannot be dissipated. It can only be taken out on oneself or stand-ins and scapegoats like one’s own children.”  (Shirley Beeman)

Reconciliation: A Step Back

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Ed,

Just so we’re clear — my ability to communicate effectively isn’t altered due to Bipolar Disorder; you and I just think in fundamentally different ways.  I teach, I write, I perform a highly technical and complex job and I interact with friends, colleagues and family with no glitches at all – my cognition isn’t different from anyone else’s, nor is it in any way impaired.  (psychosis not withstanding, but you haven’t known me in a psychotic state, or anything even close to a psychotic state) Be careful assigning your failure to properly communicate with me to my having Bipolar Disorder – to make such a ludicrous assumption would be to display your ignorance and bias.

Here’s the issue:  I don’t understand how it is – how it can possibly be, that you don’t understand the story, or that you are unable to get it. You wrote the story for the first two decades of my life; you beat me, Ed.  You were an asshole – not just one day, but every day.  My memories are clear and vivid and real, so please don’t try to exonerate yourself by oh so ignorantly asserting that my memory is impaired, or my cognition faulty, due to Bipolar Disorder. If the fault lies in memory impairment, or cognition, you’re the one with the problem.

I didn’t write the letter about mental illness to give you an excuse for poorly communicating with me, I wrote it to give you some background; if you can say “happiness is a fickle virtue,” of Elizabeth not being able find real happiness, after all I had shared with you, you obviously don’t understand all she deals with because of your reprehensible parenting.  If what you got out of that letter was a belief that my responses to you are different than you expect because I have Bipolar Disorder, I can’t help you understand — no one can, you see ONLY what you want to see.  You don’t get it because you don’t want to – you cannot face yourself.

The fact is, during the first twenty-two years of my life, you failed Universally; as a father and as a man.  That is the story, that is all there is to it.  And after the ball game, when you went into the bathroom through the exit – presumably so you didn’t have to wait in line, I was appalled.  Where is the kindness and consideration you want me to believe is so much a part of you today?  Where is the integrity?  That was an asshole move.  Now, if there is something I don’t know – if you went in and waited in line, or if you are incontinent due to having had prostate cancer, I will amend my sentiments, but if it is nothing more than it appeared to be, the move speaks to your character and I don’t like what it says.

Regarding the bet YOU made.  What I felt when reading your texts was two-fold: one, you had to address something – meaning I could just wait in your opinion, without even the consideration of your telling me you had to end our conversation for the time being, and two; you were attempting to weasel out of your bet.  Perhaps I don’t get your sense of humor, I don’t think I ever did, actually, but you came across badly and that is on you, not on me, so it has nothing to do with Bipolar Disorder. I understood exactly what you said, and what you implied.

It should be fairly obvious to you by now I am still angry – I didn’t really think I was, but the bathroom incident at the ballgame, followed by the bet text, followed by your most recent email to me has shown me that I am, and rightfully so.  I’ve let a lot go, but not everything and I don’t think I can do that until you get honest with yourself, and with me, about the monster I knew you to be when I was a child.

You want me to detail every beating so you can share my pain — they all look just like the ones you’re willing to recall.  There were dozens of them, Ed.  I begged you for mercy, which you never gave.  You humiliated me time and time again.  The self-admitted asshole you were the day of the church picnic IS THE MAN WHO RAISED ME – HE IS THE ONLY FATHER I REMEMBER.  I cannot make this anymore clear.  You were a miserable bastard, a complete and utter failure, and your failure led to some pretty dire consequences; I’m reminded every single day when I take Risperdal, Wellbutrin and Lithium of the father you were.

But I am not unable to communicate properly because of that man – you are.  Read what I write, listen to what I say — and take it as gospel, don’t spin it, don’t see it through your eyes.  I am not a hard-headed, stubborn Shockley, I abhor that trait, that kind of person – I am able to see and feel and process the pain of others, even when doing so makes me understand myself to be a miserable human being. Sometimes it’s necessary to see ourselves through another’s eyes to truly know ourselves.

When you can do that, when you’re ready to do that, please let me know.  Until then, enjoy your trip, don’t drink too much bourbon, and we’ll see you and Marie for Catch Me If You Can and dinner to follow on June 12th.

Tim