there but for the grace of God…

I recently commented on facebook about how my “since becoming a mother” heart can’t stomach stories of tragedy, loss, and abuse; the intense grief I feel when hearing these stories makes me physically sick, and I generally have such aversion to the news that I have to turn off the radio (it’s usually news radio that delivers my news). Although I have this experience when hearing about abuse to adults – civil wars, shootings, physical abuse – they are strongest when I hear of these injustices visited upon children. Even just writing these words brings a lump to my throat.
Any image of physical or emotional abuse to kids – like the scenes from an episode in Season 2 of Breaking Bad that I just watched (if you are a fan, you’ll know the one I’m talking about…with the ATM machine…) – leaves me cringing, but stories of sexual abuse, in particular, leave me nauseated and the thought of any children, God forbid my children, experiencing such trauma leaves me paralyzed. If I let myself think about it for too long, we would never leave the house. Never.

This afternoon Diane Rehm’s guest was Wally Lamb the author of several books including She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much is True. After being selected for Oprah’s Book Club Lamb described feeling like he needed to give back, karmically, for the opportunity he was given. When a childhood friend, who was the librarian at a women’s prison where moral was extremely low and several women had attempted or successfully committed suicide, asked Lamb to come and just talk to the women about his writing he hesitated but eventually accepted. 15 years later, he is still going back, talking about and leading writing workshops to these inmates. With just enough detail, I listened to him talk about the years of sexual abuse that a vast majority of these women suffered as adolescents and even young children, and the cascade of negative experiences and decisions that followed, ultimately leading them to prison. “You can learn to manage those emotions, those experiences,” he told Diane, But you never really heal; you never forget them. “Yes,” responded Diane, “closure is a myth.”

As I listened to their conversation, driving down the highway, the sun broke through the clouds and poured over the mountains. I was on a ridge, looking down into the valley which led to town, and the leaves, although not as vibrant as last year, glowed in the sun: yellow, orange, red. It was a gorgeous fall day, the promise of a dusting of snow in the evening’s forecast. I was about to go see my kids at daycare, to snuggle with and feed Alice, and my biggest problem – the thing keeping me up at night – was how to increase my following on facebook or twitter or this blog so I had leverage to convince an agent that what I have to say about parenting and food is worth putting into a book. I started sobbing.

I have a good life. No. I have a great life. But it didn’t have to be this way. I was lucky to grow up in a loving family with resources and education, but even with that head-start success and happiness was not a given. When I think about the possible deviations my life could have taken; where those alternative paths could have taken me and where that could have left me… Hurt and broken.

But they didn’t lead me there. The paths led me here. I have a fabulous and supportive husband who strives each day to make our marriage better, and my children have me as a mother (and Tim as a father) and we love them so deeply that it hurts.

“I have learned so much from these women,” Lamb told Diane during the interview, “most importantly is to appreciate this blessed life I’ve lived because not everyone has this.”

“Truly,” Diane interrupted. “We keep that at a distance, don’t we? That fact. We choose not to look too closely.”

“Absolutely,” he responded. “I mean, really, there but for the grace of God….” he said trailing off. And neither one spoke for several seconds.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

Couldn't keep it to myself{The inmates have published two anthologies of their stories, Couldn’t Keep it to Myself and I’ll Fly Away. Wally Lamb has a new book, influenced by the stories of the woman he met at York Correctional Facility, called we are water}

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7 thoughts on “there but for the grace of God…

  1. Thank you Kiyah.
    I was molested by my stepbrother when I was 11. I tried to tell my parents but they never bothered to get the whole story and I felt blamed for the situation. Fortunately I was able to move to my mother’s and avoid the situation entirely. Since I had my daughter 4 years ago I realized that what happened was NOT my fault and was finally able to use the word molestation. I have been able to tell my parents the details of what happened (that they avoided when I was a child) but they are still avoiding the situation. They want me to simply forgive my stepbrother and go on like it never happened. They don’t understand that complete closure is never possible, that this continues to pop up in different way throughout a person’s life. I have had to discontinue communication with them for the sake of my mental health. Sometimes I feel guilty about this. But reading your post helps me remember that I am right and I don’t have to pretend this never happened.
    Even though I went through this terrible thing I still feel that “There but for the grace of God….” I never turned to drugs. I managed to survive poor sexual choices without an STD. I made it through high school, college and 2 extensive Montessori training courses. I have an amazing husband and a fabulous daughter. My mother was my savior. She grew up in rough home and is not the most stable person in the world but I never once doubted that she loved me. I wish I could tell her that she saved my life but her mental health has been shaky the last couple of years and talking about this would make things worse. I have told my stepfather that being able to live with him and Mom kept me from committing suicide so at least he knows.
    Thanks again for posting about something that is difficult for you to think about.

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    1. Shawn,I do not have words that are appropriate for responding to this comment. I am so honored that you are willing to share your story with me and anyone else who might happen to come across this post. And I am so deeply and simultaneously sad and happy for you: that you have had to deal with this and that you have been able to overcome it. Thank you for your openness and honesty.
      Kiyah

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  2. Beautiful and heart wrenching Kiyah. I would buy your book. I would buy several copies and give them as gifts to fellow warrior parents. Shawn, so moved by your bravery, wanted to share one of my favorite Brene Brown quotes:“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
    ? Brené Brown

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  3. Thanks for the comments but I don’t really feel courageous, I feel tired. I am tired of living in a world where we don’t talk about “bad” things. I am tired of giving people power of me that don’t deserve it. I am tired of feeling like I have to do this alone. Secrets are burdens. Every time I tell someone mine feels lighter.

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  4. main findings included: 53.22% of children reported having faced sexual abuse. Among them 52.94% were boys and 47.06% girls. Andhra Pradesh , Assam , Bihar and Delhi reported the highest percentage of sexual abuse among both boys and girls, as well as the highest incidence of sexual assaults. 21.90% of child respondents faced severe forms of sexual abuse, 5.69% had been sexually assaulted and 50.76% reported other forms of sexual abuse. Children on the street, at work and in institutional care reported the highest incidence of sexual assault. The study also reported that 50% of abusers are known to the child or are in a position of trust and responsibility and most children had not reported the matter to anyone. Despite years of lack of any specific child sexual abuse laws in India , which treated them separately from adults in case of sexual offense, the ‘Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill, 2011’ was passed the Indian parliament on May 22, 2012.

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