My mother knew I didn't want to be there; my whole family knew I didn't want to be there, and every time I looked at him, I saw the terror in his eyes. His recently engaged, soccer-playing, interior-designing, dumb-ass brown eyes.
He was afraid I would tell; blurt it out and let everyone at the table know that he, my latest and least-favorite step-brother, a tall, handsome man, had been having a sexual relationship with me, his 15 year-old step-sister, until about a year ago when my mother found out and kicked him out. I was beyond livid when she forced me to go to that ridiculous engagement dinner. I couldn't believe I was complicit in my own soul-crushing PTSD-inducing trauma, which happened to include a ginormous table of Chinese food which I am sure was delicious but was little more than sulfur on my tongue.
It would be, in addition to many other putrid events in my life, what determined my value for many years to come. It would be what dictated my expectations of the world. It would be the thing I would always be working to grow beyond.
For years and years, I would re-enact this horror in my relationships, imagining that my boyfriend of the time had put my best interest at risk in order to be comfortable or popular or lovable. Any subtle act of inconsiderate behavior would register at least a four on the Richter scale and result in an earth-shattering eruption which would leave him, (no matter who he was) scratching his head and wondering where this crazy woman had come from and where she had hidden his awesome girlfriend.
This took many hours of therapy, yoga, and energy work to undo. Even now, I am still working on it. Every once in a while, I have to convince myself that I am worthy of love, of protection, of support. I have to talk myself down from the ledge of self-destruction every so often when some small slight occurs.
When the people you love, the people you really need to love you, direct you to lie down like a mat at the front door and thank everyone who walks across your chest with shitty boots, it does damage. So much damage that I actually believed that other people knew. I believed that the adults in my family were aware of what was going on. And my father? I was worried that if I told him, he wouldn't do anything about it. I never gave him the opportunity to protect me because I didn't think he would.
I can tell when someone has been treated this way. These are the people who behave badly, or as some call it, CRAZY. It is a huge irony in this life that I am told on a pretty regular basis by men who I go out with, (or just consider going out with, up until they say this to me), that women are CRAZY. Yeah. We are crazy alright. Crazy because the world treats us like we are disposable. Crazy because we are not supposed to get very angry when we are asked to be complicit in the white washing of our own abuse. Crazy when we are asked to swallow our pain in the name of the shame of those who cannot admit that they could be monsters.
And there is a continuum. When my abuser was a boy, his father abused him. He learned his abuse from another abuser. My mother grew up un-lovable, compounded by the fact that she was a lesbian in a world that would reject her. As and adult, she would give up the safety of her children in exchange for the love she desperately wanted. I have come through this knowing that happy people, people comfortable in their own skin, people who feel loved, would not do this. There is always pain behind pain. This does not excuse this abuse. This explains it. This helps me get to compassion, because that is my only way out of it.
The first person I had to have compassion for was myself. There was a time when I believed that I had wanted his attention. Like my mother before me, I desperately wanted to be loved. He appeared to be that opportunity. My young mind had no idea of the lies, deception, the pain he would cause me in the form of other women. I believed everything he told me; that he had to date other women so our moms wouldn't suspect, that he would marry me one day, that he loved me. I wanted so badly to believe it that I allowed myself to be treated like garbabe. I also had not protected me. For this, I had to forgive myself. I had to love myself anyway.
Up until several weeks ago when I heard this story, I barely ever gave Kesha a second thought; but I will tell you what, I think about her now. I think about how an entire industry, save a few female vocalists and her loyal fans, is asking her to work with the man who abused her. It brings up the memories of the abuse I suffered, the shame I felt, and the confusion I had about my part in it.
It is telling that other women in her industry have come out to support her; I am sure they have experienced this type of treatment in some form or another, as we all have. But it is not a man-woman thing. It is a human-human thing. We can't allow this anymore. We can't allow our shame to keep us from admitting that we are capable of horrible, de-humanizing things. This is our heritage. We have been abusing individuals, large groups of people, and small groups of people, for far too long, and justifying it with whatever is handy.
It is a sickness born of the shame we feel around our frailties. It is the fear we have about what our behavior says about us. It is not too much to say that this is a world-wide problem born of pain and suffering.
I know today that back then, if I had felt loved, I would not have gone looking for it. If I had felt valued, cared for, and taken care of, I would not have been vulnerable. If my abuser had not been abused, he would never have done that to me. If my mother had felt genuinely accepted and loved for who she was, she would not have allowed it to happen.
That is why I hope that you can find a way to love yourself. Once you have done that, I hope that you can truly love those around you. After that, you might find your way clear to love those you don't know, because they are humans too. Then, maybe, hope upon hope, love those who you see as threats. Show them the love they might not know.
The absence of love leaves room for things that damage us all. The absence of love is what we suffer from.