“Watch RWISA Write Showcase Tour” — Day 26

RWISA TOUR (1)Guilt, Shame & Fear

By Stephanie Collins

I can’t stand the feeling of being out of control, so I’ve never had any interest in trying drugs or alcohol,” I mused.

STEPHANIE COLLINS

Stephanie Collins

You sure seemed to have an interest when you were younger,” Dad informed me. He responded to my perplexed look before I had a chance to deny his claim. “What? You don’t remember trying pot? Let’s see. It was about 1975. That would have made you five, right? I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a summer afternoon. I walked into the living room and found you with a bong in one hand and a beer in the other. You just looked up at me, glassy-eyed, with a smile on your face and said, ‘Hi, Dad.’ You don’t remember that?”

Uh…no!”

Ha! Do you remember the massive headache you had the next day? You hated life that day! I told you not ever to do it again…and you never did,” he reminisced in a tone laced with humor and pride.

It was after that conversation when I really began to question my apparent lack of childhood memories. I have next to no memory of life before the divorce of my parents (when I was eight) and precious few afterward.

My parental split also marks the onset of memories of the “secret playtime” I shared with Dad. I remember realizing that what was happening to me was wrong (to a certain extent, anyway), but Dad really missed Mom. I felt proud to be there for him in his time of grief and loneliness. I had many roles as the oldest daughter. I got my toddler sister to bed on time, scolded her when I found her drinking a beer (that one I do have a vague memory of), and I cleaned the house. Those “more intimate interactions” with Dad were just another in my list of responsibilities as I saw it.

But if Dad remembered the timeline correctly, Mom and Dad were still together when I was five. Where was Mom when her Kindergartener daughter was experimenting with drugs? Could this mean I should add neglect as a descriptor of my “chaotic” upbringing? Could it mean the molestation began earlier than I have any memory of? Does it even matter at this point?

For a time, I was skeptical if someone told me s/he didn’t have sexual abuse in their background. It seemed it was everywhere. I ran a support group in a junior high school when getting my psychology degree. It was for eighth-grade girls, and the only qualifier for an invitation to the group was poor school attendance. After a few weeks of meetings, I opened a session with – innocently enough – “So, how was everyone’s weekend?” One girl immediately began to cry. She explained she had confronted her parents over the weekend with the news that her brother had sexually abused her for years. She had come forward out of fear for the niece her brother’s girlfriend had just given birth to. That student’s admission led to the revelation that six of the seven of us in our circle that day had a history of sexual abuse.

My best friend in college was gang-raped in high school. My college boyfriend was [brutally] raped by a neighbor as a child. Maybe the most disturbing situation I heard about was when I was a senior in high school. I had befriended a freshman. She came to me one day, inconsolable. She was petrified, as she was positive she was pregnant. I tried to calm her with reassuring words, then asked, “Have you told [your boyfriend] yet?” She burst into a fresh bout of tears. When she was finally able to speak again, she confessed in an agonized whisper, “I can’t! It’s not his. It’s…it’s my uncle’s, or my father’s.”

I don’t know how I thought sexual abuse was rampant all around me but had somehow left the rest of my family untouched. Soon after my first daughter was born, I learned that Dad had attempted to molest my younger sister when I was about 12 (my sister would have been 7 or 8 then). As it turns out, I disrupted the attempt when I went to inform them I had just finished making breakfast. I learned of that incident because our [even younger] step sister had just pressed charges against Dad for her sexual abuse from years earlier. He served four years.

Incidentally, that family drama enlightened me to the fact that my grandmother had been abused by a neighbor. My aunt had been abused by her uncle. I wonder if Dad had been sexually abused, too (in addition to the daily, brutal physical abuse I know he suffered at the hands of my grandfather).

As with most survivors of abuse from a family member, I am full of ambiguity and conflict. I am glad Dad was educated to the error of his ways. I’m satisfied he paid for his crimes. I’m relieved the truth came out. I hate that the truth came out. I mourn for the shell of a man who returned from prison. I weep for a family that was blown apart by the scandal. I am heartbroken for my grandmother, who was devastated by the whole ordeal. I am thankful I live 3000 miles away from my family, so I don’t have to face the daily small-town shame they all do, now that Dad is a registered sex offender. I am proud of my step sister for speaking up. I am woefully ashamed for not having the courage to do it myself, which possibly would have prevented the abuse of others after me. I love my father. I am thankful for the [many] great things he has done for me over the years. I hate the effect his molestation had on me, including the role it likely played in my high school rape by another student, and my first [abusive, dysfunctional] marriage.

As I’ve clearly demonstrated, my story is far from unique. Heck, it’s not even remotely severe or traumatic when compared to what others have survived. Still, here I am – 40 years after my first memories of molestation – and I’m still suffering the consequences. Along with my disgrace for allowing others to be abused after me, I carry incredible shame for my involvement in the acts (regardless of the decades of therapy that advise me I had no real power or choice in the matter). I carry unbelievable guilt for the strain my history places on my relationship with my husband. He’s an amazing, wonderful, loving man, who deserves nothing less than a robust, vigorous, fulfilling sex life, but gets – to the best of my ability – a [hopefully] somewhat satisfying one. I carry secret embarrassment over the only real sexual fantasy I have – that of reliving my rape and [this time] taking great pleasure in castrating the bastard in the slowest, most brutally savage way imaginable.

Heaviest of all, I carry fear. There’s nothing I can do to change my past. All I can do is work toward preventing the continued cycle of abuse. I may have a warped view of personal boundaries, I may struggle with my sexuality, and I may be somewhat unfamiliar with healthy family dynamics, but I can do all in my power to ensure my kids fare far better than me. I fear failure.

My eldest daughter has mild to moderate developmental delay. While statistics for sexual abuse in the general population is scary enough, the likelihood of abuse when a cognitive disability is involved is all but a certainty. My second daughter is non-verbal, non-ambulatory, and severely mentally delayed. She’s a prime candidate for abuse. What if my efforts to protect them fall short?

My [teenaged] son and my youngest [“tween”] daughter both have ADHD. Impulse control is a constant struggle for them both. What if the education, counseling, advice, and coaching I offer them about healthy relationships, sexuality, safety and personal responsibility aren’t enough?

I try to counteract these lingering after effects of abuse by remaining ever thankful for the love, good fortune, and beautiful life I share with my husband and children today, but my guilt, shame, and fear cling to me with tenacious persistence.

I am just finishing “It Begins And Ends With Family” by Jo Ann Wentzel. I highly recommend the read. The subject is foster care, but no conversation about foster children is complete without a discussion of child abuse and neglect. While we can debate the best course of action in helping abused children, the top priority must be to work toward a goal of prevention; to break the cycle of abuse. I am hopeful that – as a society – we can work together to empathize, educate, support, counsel, and care enough to stop the cycle of all abuse. If sharing my truth will help toward that goal, well…Here I am. This is my truth.

***

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH RWISAWRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, to please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.  WE ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

Stephanie Collins’s RWISA Author Page

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“Watch RWISA Write Showcase Tour” — Day 10

RWISA TOUR (1)

Last Night

by John W. Howell

John W. Howell

John W. Howell

So, with nothing better to do, I figure I’ll stop at Jerry’s place and grab a couple of drinks and a burger. Usually, I don’t go there on Saturday night since there’s a crapload of amateurs taking up what would be considered prime space. I figure since this is a Friday and close to Saturday, it may be packed, but not as crazy as Saturday. It’s the kind of place where everyone minds their business. They’re there for a good time and will likely not notice me. Even so, I go through the door, stop, and have a look around, trying not to make eye contact. I hope that the ball cap and large coat will keep me from getting noticed.  The bar holds a weekday crowd, hanging on each other like they never had a date before. I tighten my eyelids against the smoke and make out four guys near the pool table, and what looks like a couple of girls fetching drinks. I search for a seat beyond the table in the back, but it seems like they’re all taken.

A guy bumps into me as I stand here. I say excuse me, and he looks me in the face. “Hey, don’t I know you?” he says.

“I don’t think so.” I make to turn away.

“Yeah, you’re the sports hero who lost all his money. I saw you on TV.”

“Naw, people always say stuff like that. I’m not him, buddy; trust me.”

He gives me a puzzled look but doesn’t want to push it, in case he has it wrong. I turn away and continue to look for a seat.

Straight ahead lies the bar, and it has a place right in the middle. I move in the direction of the empty place and look over to the other side of the room. The tables look full of happy drunks. Buckets of empties line the bar top, and the barmaid’s trying to sell more. She doesn’t have much luck since most of these people just spent their last five bucks on this outing. Upon making it to the stool, I hoist myself up and lean on the bar.

“Hey, Greg,” Jerry says. “Whadda you have?”

“Evening, Jerry. I’ll have a Gin on the rocks with a water back.”

“Comin’ up.”

I like Jerry’s no-nonsense way of handling things. He doesn’t like small talk and gets right to business. My eyes smart from the smoke, and I wonder how Jerry gets away with letting people kill themselves, when clearly, it’s not supposed to be allowed in this kind of establishment.

“Here you go. Want me to run a tab?”

“Yeah, I would appreciate that. I intend to have another drink and then a burger.”

The guy who thinks he knows me grabs my shoulder from behind. I almost fall off the stool.

“You’re Greg Petros, the big fund manager. I knew I’d seen you on TV. You took a beautiful career in football and ran it into the ground.”

Jerry leans over the bar and lays his hand on the guy’s shoulder. “Move on, my friend. You made a mistake. This guy is nobody. Go sit down and let me buy you a drink.”

“You sure? You called him Greg.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Go get a table, and I’ll send someone over.”

The guy looks at me one more time but does as Jerry suggests. He believes Jerry’s wrong, but the idea of a free drink lets him get away without losing face.

“Thanks. I didn’t mean for you to have to jump in.”

“No problem. Gimme the high sign when you’re ready for another drink.”

“Will do. Thanks.”

“For you buddy, anything.”

I should mention that Jerry and I go back aways. When I fell on hard times, he became the only one that seemed to give a shit. I take a sip of my drink and wait for the burn in my throat, which signals the good stuff. Here it comes. I take a swig of the water and almost believe life is good. The Gin needs to get to the brain before making any honest judgment.

While I wait for the warmth to go from my stomach to my head, I check out the folks seated on either side of me. They both have their backs turned to me and sit engrossed in some discussion with their neighbor. I figure it’s just as well since I don’t want to go through that old “don’t I know you?” bullshit again. Also, I don’t figure on staying the night, so no use in getting into any long discussions about life.

I look down at my drink and wonder what will happen tomorrow. My daughter Constance wants to come and visit. She lives in New York, and before all hell broke loose, we didn’t see each other often. I missed her so much, and it seemed I had to beg her even to talk on the phone. Now, it’s like she wants to be here every weekend. It’s only an hour’s flight by the shuttle or three by train, so she can come when she wants. I just can’t figure out why she got so clingy. I have my troubles, but it doesn’t have anything to do with her. No use in asking her husband, either. Though a nice enough guy, I always wonder if he has someplace important to go when I visit. He never sits still, and stays busy on the phone or at the computer. He makes a good living, but it seems a person could take an hour to sit and talk. I’d looked forward to some kind of relationship when he and Constance got married. It’ll never happen with him.

When I take another pull at my drink, I notice the burn feels less. It happens every time. First sip initiation, I call it. It’s like the first puff of a cigarette, hits hard then, after, nothing. I decide to let Constance pretty much have the agenda tomorrow. She and I have not had a chance to talk about anything deep for a while. It could just be that she blames me for her mother running off with that guy with the house on the Hudson. He has a title, and the old gal couldn’t resist, but, I think the daughter always felt I should have done something. Her mother’s sleeping with another guy and what the hell can I do about that?

I’ll just go with the flow. If she wants to go out, we will. If she wants to stay in, we can do that, too. I better think about getting some food in the house. Of course, we can always order take out. I need to move on to my drink and let this go. Tomorrow will be what it is. I remember the day she was born. I looked down at her in my arms and promised I would do anything for her. I love her more than life itself, and I hope we can somehow get to the root of whatever’s wrong. She sounded strange on the phone this morning, and I feel helpless to do anything about it. I hope she opens up when she gets here.

For some reason, I feel tired. Perhaps I’ll go ahead and finish my drink. Maybe I’ll just go home and forget the burger. First, though, I’ll just shut my eyes for a minute. My hands feel good when I put my head down.

“Hey, Greg,” Jerry says. I barely hear him. “What’s the matter? You taking a nap? Greg?” I can feel him shake me, but I have no interest in waking up. His voice gets further away, and I think he says, “Oh my God, Sophie, call 911, quick.”

Now the room goes silent.

END

© 2017 by John W. Howell


Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH “RWISAWRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, to please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.  WE ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

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5 Parenting Tricks to Raise a Smarter Child

knowledgegift

Children are born curious. That is why they drive their parents nuts. Even before they can talk, they’re into everything, whether it’s the kitchen cupboards or the catbox. Hopefully, the no-no’s are replaced by toys that are equally stimulating, though most parents have found that nothing can replace something as simple as a big, fort-sized box. When they learn to talk, then the questions begin. And for busy parents, these are often seen as a nuisance and distraction versus the opportunity they are to enhance your child’s intelligence and creativity. Instead, it’s usually squelched by sitting them in front of Netflix or a video game. I won’t even talk about the concept of going outside to play, since nowadays that seems as old-fashioned as rotary phones.

Most parents want their children to grow up to be successful, self-sufficient adults. With luck, maybe they’ll even take care of you someday. The question is whether your current parenting tactics will bring that result? What does your child’s diet comprise? Not just physical, either, though that’s the first place to start. Proper nutrition is important in too many ways to address in this blog, but if nothing else, it teaches healthy eating habits, even if you don’t explain why vegetables and fruit are healthier than cupcakes and soda. Proper nutrition contributes not only to a healthier body, but mind as well.

A healthy emotional diet is important, too. Lots of hugs, positive reinforcement and appropriate discipline are essential. If a child feels loved, overcoming other parenting mistakes is much easier.

learntothinkBut what about his or her intellectual diet? What’s feeding their little minds? Are you putting some thought behind it when they’re bored or just reaching for the easiest distraction? Here are a few tips for encouraging your child to love learning.

1. Answer their questions! In the past, unless you were a physicist, it was more difficult when a child asked “Why is the sky blue” or “What causes a rainbow” or “Why can airplanes fly?” In the past it required a huge dictionary and a bookcase of heavy and expensive encyclopedias. Now all it takes is a quick query on your smartphone, tablet or computer. Don’t dismiss any question as stupid! Face it, you probably think it’s stupid because you can’t answer it. That attitude will rub off, too! If your child sees you looking up answers, it won’t be long before they do, too.

2. Make learning fun! There are just as many educational games out there as mindless ones, most of which teach battle strategies and violence. Shop carefully, paying attention to what the story line comprises. If your child gets addicted to video games, wouldn’t you rather they be learning something?

3. Failure is not an option! Part of making learning fun is creating a love for challenges, which is what games do. Make learning something new exciting, not something to be feared. Encourage your child to confront challenges, head-on, by setting goals, then celebrate even small successes. Teach the concept that failure isn’t permanent, but only a learning experience that serves as a stepping stone along the road of life.

4. Identify his or her learning style! It’s great that there’s so much visual learning these days, which I wish had been the case when I was a youngster. There are numerous learning styles with the most basic audio, visual and kinesthetic (hands-on). Do you know which one your child favors? It’s best to introduce all three and see which one your child’s naturally drawn to.

As a visual and kinesthetic learner, I did poorly with teachers who did nothing but talk, which went in one ear and out the other. Visuals helped, but hands-on resonated. While it’s a good idea to introduce the other styles to build skills in those areas, be sure to use your child’s favored media for the most important areas. Once you know what it is, find out which method(s) your child encounters in school. If it’s not the favored style, then you’ll want to supplement learning at home in the style s/he’ll not only absorb but enjoy.

5. Music appreciation! Learning a musical instrument not only teaches discipline, it actually improves a child’s brain and concentration. If this isn’t possible, you can still control what they’re exposed to. What becomes familiar is what they’ll prefer. If a child never hears classical music, it’s unlikely to be embraced later.

If music programs the brain in some way, then what do you want your child to listen to? Pay attention to lyrics, too, which are absorbed at the subconscious level. Music is a powerful tool. Make sure it’s having the desired effect. Going on vacation? While you have a captive audience in the car is a great time to introduce classical music. Turn off the DVD player occasionally and have them watch the countryside, which can be used as an impromptu geography lesson. Visiting a National Park? What an excellent time to introduce the compositions of Bach, Beethoven or Brahms.

None of these take a lot of time, certainly a lot less than most sports programs, which have their place in a child’s upbringing. But if most of your child’s leisure time is occupied with sports, what priorities are you teaching? Think about it.

Once you make up your mind to focus on these simple tricks, they’ll become second nature, not only for you but your child as well. Children truly do learn what they live. The intellectual quality depends on you.

Fathers’ Day Musings

fatheranyI always approach Fathers’ Day with mixed feelings. There are great fathers and there are those who were present at the moment of conception but that was about it. My father fit somewhere in-between. He was there, at least physically, but not much of a father. No, he wasn’t physically abusive but he didn’t have a clue how to be a parent, or even a husband, for that matter. In his defense, his father died when he was two years old and his mother, my grandmother, never remarried so he really didn’t have any sort of example to follow.

When I was little he found me amusing but as I got older he nicknamed me “Nuisance” and by the time I was a teenager he ignored me completely. Ironically, he and my mother stayed married because of me. The three little words I remember him saying to her on a regular basis were “You’re never satisfied.” As a result I grew up with little respect for either of them whose relationship was somewhere between the Bundys and Bunkers or maybe Ralph and Alice Cramden, a.k.a. “The Honeymooners” of sitcom fame. This, of course, fueled his resentment toward the “stupid kid.” In retrospect, I can see that the sour marriage ruined us all. If my parents had been happily divorced we all would have been better off, especially me, since I felt I was to blame for the sorry situation.

father1

A book I read years ago entitled “Getting the Love You Want” by Harville Hendrix did an excellent job of explaining why men and women marry the people they do. It’s quite simple. Each is attempting to complete a role that was lacking in some way regarding the parent of the opposite gender. I grew up feeling useless at best and a burden at worst, so when I got married I was out to prove that I could support myself and everyone else. That’s what happens when your nickname is “Nuisance.”

I probably sound bitter, but I’m not, just retrospective as once again Fathers’ Day approaches. It was a few weeks before Fathers’ Day when my father died. He was in his 70s and had suffered a major stroke with little to no hope of recovery. He was a Navy veteran so was going to be transported from the local hospital to the Veterans’ Hospital roughly a hundred miles away, so I knew I probably would never see him again. Thus, I went to the hospital that morning to say goodbye. He was unconscious as I took a chair at the foot of his bed, but shortly after I arrived he started to stir, opened his eyes, sat up far enough to make eye contact, then convulsed and was gone. As he left this life I had a strong impression that he’d apologized in passing for being such a lousy father. It didn’t change anything but for some strange reason made me feel at peace, recognize he did the best that he could and forgive him entirely for his deficiencies. The sense of loss I felt then and still is never so much that he’d passed on, but rather for the relationship we never had.

fathergift

As time went by, my own children grew up, had children of their own, and their children likewise grew up. During that time I witnessed a wide variety of fathering or lack thereof. The older I got, the more I realized how many voids I had in my life because of my father’s inability to function in that role. I never felt as if I mattered one way or the other and that I had to prove my worth, to myself as well as everyone else. I never had anyone I felt comfortable going to for advice, mostly because of being told “you’re only a stupid kid” on a regular basis. Ironically, he had a 10th grade education and couldn’t answer some of the simplest questions I asked when I was a youngster. I don’t doubt now, as I look back, that he was simply echoing what he’d been told as a child himself.

When I got married and he “gave me away” it was an empty part of the ceremony since we’d never bonded. I’ve seen some beautiful interactions between brides and their fathers and sometimes grandfathers, both at the altar and then later when they danced together. Seeing them always brought tears to my eyes because it was an experience I’d never have. I never knew either of my grandfathers, either, but having a loving grandpa can definitely help fill this void.

fatherbride

Fortunately, in my life I’ve known some wonderful older men whom I adopted emotionally as a surrogate father. These were kind, educated and successful men who treated me like an intelligent and perhaps even interesting human being. I wept profusely when these worthy father substitutes passed away while never shedding a tear for my own.

The more children raised without a father’s positive influence, the more dysfunctional families will result. Boys need a loving and responsible male role model and girls need a positive relationship with their father to assure better self-esteem and higher expectations of the men in their future. If that sounds sexist, I don’t care. I wonder if my relationship with my father would have been better if I had been a boy, which he wanted as many men do. Maybe I got a physics degree and went into a career field predominated by men to try to make up for being a girl. My father was a mechanic and I remember when he’d work on our family car that I was curious and wanted to watch but was shooed away since that’s not what girls were supposed to be interested in. And sadly, now that I’m retired and single, I have this huge mental block about fixing things or performing even minor maintenance like changing the air filter on my lawnmower, probably because I was told as a child that girls don’t do such things.

father2

If any fathers out there have stuck with me this long, please recognize how important you are to your children. If a child feels unloved by his or her father it’s highly likely a feeling of not being good enough will have a pervasive detrimental effect on his or her life. Every rejection will reinforce this negative self-perception and deter love, success and joy from every fact of their life. They may turn out to be a workaholic people-pleaser, forever trying to find the praise and acceptance they never got. A more negative spin includes gang membership or promiscuity. Note that well-intentioned but over-critical parents can have the same effect if a child feels unloved or unaccepted.

fathervader

Fathers, your children possess half of your genetic material and have a natural affection for you, whether you deserve it or not. Why do you think adopted children will go to so much trouble to find their birth parents? Any failure on your part to fulfill your role will leave an empty place in their heart. And you adopted fathers are incredibly important. You don’t have the benefit of a genetic link yet have every bit as much influence and responsibility to fill that role. In some cases you’ll do far better than the natural parent ever could, especially if the natural father was in the “sperm donor” category. Unfortunately, my “surrogate” fathers entered my life too late to fill that void.

father3

While numerous male parents in the animal kingdom are remiss in taking part in raising their offspring, humans are supposed to be better than that. Fathers, be the best person you possibly can and man up to your responsibilities. Be there for your sons and daughters. By doing so you can make an important contribution one child at a time to a better world. A world that needs all the help it can get.