Family Dynamics: Forgiving, Releasing and Blessing My Father (Part 4)

There was no resolution, about what to do with Dad, during that visit with the psychiatrist, or at the little ‘family huddle’ that followed. A few of us had said our piece. We were all polite and respectful, if not a little forthright. But that’s us. We’re not given to beating around the bush.

We are true to our German blood–as stubborn as the day is long–so if we’re going to speak at all, it will likely be our minds, not what others necessarily want to hear. And once we’ve said it, we move on.
Soon it was as if it had never happened. No updates, really. We don’t communicate regularly with everyone, not because of anger or hatred, for the most part. It’s just that, with sixteen siblings, a few in-laws, plus nieces, and nephews, it’s pretty daunting to get started. And it’s just how it’s always been.
We connect over tragedy, as a larger family unit, but seldom do we all get together just for fun. Probably because there are so many of us… and maybe because there is an elephant or two in the room, that most of us know about, and no one knows how to address.

 

There isn’t a lot of animosity, if any, between most siblings, though it crops up from time to time where one family member won’t talk to another for a while. I’ve been the recipient of such rejection a time or two, but  it leaves me feeling sorry for the person trying to punish me. I really haven’t the time or energy for such disputes. Fortunately it usually passes quickly enough and then all is well again. I can never decide if it’s forgiveness or denial. I’m inclined to lean towards denial…

So life went on, after Dad’s arrest, almost as if nothing had happened. Other factors, besides denial, play into this way of doing life, and some of them are the ‘side effects’ of abuse, that victims have no control over, especially before they know they exist.

One of these side effects of abuse, violence, and neglect, is that we lose our ability to bond. I have not studied psychology, nor have I talked with many people who experienced this, but I know it happens, because I am one of them. And I don’t profess to fully understand it, even in myself, but I feel and see the impact, and can identify the source of it.

Somewhere in early childhood, I disconnected myself from my family and all the pain   and abuse I felt there. My heart disconnected in the sense that it does not feel part of them, even though I know the truth. No doubt it was a childhood survival skill, but as an adult it has a price tag, a cost. It is not a choice to be disconnected, nor is it really a feeling. It is a lack of feeling.

Yesterday afternoon Tim and I watched the movie, The Man Who Lost Himself (The Stranger I married) 2005, based on a true story. The main character, Terry Evanshen, has a terrible accident, goes into a coma, and doesn’t know who he really is when he emerges. This triggers anger, outbursts and confusion, and causes him to almost lose his family.

As I watched him, I thought to myself, I get you! I understand that! While my outbursts and anger are a thing of the past, the loss of familial identity remains, and the inability to bond, remains.

I have found ways to work through this. Ways to bond with those closest to me–with my husband and children–but on the larger scale that ability does not exist. And it never comes naturally. Even with my children I had to learn to bond, and train myself to nurture that bond.

Outside of my home, with friends, I love deeply, and feel deeply that which is in the present, but, with most things, the instant it is past, it has no conscious impact. No power. For some things this is good, for others, not so much. But if a memory returns, it returns with incredible detail and I again feel it, as if I am there, reliving it. For the good memories that freshness is wonderful, for the bad memories, not so much. For the bad memories I have trained myself to focus on the good that God has brought out of it, so that the dark power is lost.

I love my friends and have many of them. But, like the man in yesterday’s movie, I have to be intentional about thinking of them and connecting. I pause sometimes, and consciously, deliberately think about my friends, wonder how they are, call them, or write a note. But it is intentional, not the result of feeling I miss them. It is more of knowing I miss them. And when I am with them after being apart a while, I realize that I have indeed missed them. But I don’t miss people in that sense of feeling and longing. And there isn’t a thing I can do about it. In some ways I feel robbed.

The exception, having learned to bond with them, is my husband and children. When I visited Ethiopia for two weeks in 2006, I missed my family. It didn’t consume me, or make me feel sick, or weepy, for the most part, but I missed them. As the time neared for me to return home, as I found myself thinking more about seeing them, my heart almost burst with love and anticipation. And then the tears started.

And that is one of few times I experienced it, to even know what it feels like to truly, deeply miss someone. To wish never to be separated from them again.

So when the meeting with family, about Dad, was over, and I left. It didn’t consume me, or dwell much in my mind at all. Life at home had always been about getting through crises, and then moving on. That is how it remained.

But the memory of my conversation with Dad stayed with me.

When Tim and I married several years later, after a ten month courtship, I gave Dad a hug for the second time in my life. He still had no idea how to accept it. That day he was strong. In control again. Not the weak man I had seen in Goderich. And the hug felt awkward, but I couldn’t not do it. Sometimes awkward is necessary.

The memory of seeing him vulnerable, lost and alone, and seeing the little boy in him, influenced me profoundly. Little by little, I was determined I would break the man down and get inside his heart. The real person living in that shell, not the angry, explosive man who had fathered me in my early years.

To Be Continued…

© Trudy Metzger

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The Radical Risk that Saved My Life Continued… (Part 3)

Nanoseconds passed. But it seemed like an eternity of hell in my soul. And then I felt their arms around me, sandwiched safely between Howard and Alice.

“What happened, Trudy? What did you remember?” they ask.

I tried to explain, but it tumbled out, awkwardly. Broken. Making no sense. Bits and pieces of lost memories, like little pieces of my heart that needed to, somehow, be glued back together. Is it just a nightmare? Will I wake up? Momentarily the shock created a barrier between my real world and my mental world.

I had too much tea for supper but I thought about the stairs, about being in the bathroom alone, and I couldn’t do it. You better if you don’t want to do some mopping in front of these kind new friends. That’s a motivational thought.

I excused myself, steeling myself against the terror. One step at a time I willed myself to climb those stairs. I arrived, closed the door, and locked it firmly. The window haunted me. Am I really alone? I could feel them… they were there, and I didn’t even know who, or what they were. They had returned from childhood to haunt me, the shadowless beings that always chased me.

Darkness gathered around my heart, foreboding.

I didn’t bother to take the time to dry my hands before I opened the door, and peeked out. No one. I bolted for the stairs, flying down them three at a time. Noisily. Forget covering up this hell. I’m not okay. I’m a wreck. 

I dropped onto the couch, between Howard and Alice, trembling. I started laughing. It was another survival thing I did. I felt so foolish, juvenile, fighting childhood fears. Trudy, pull yourself together.  The lecture fell flat.

“I was terrified,” I said. “Really terrified. Almost like someone was following me. I know how dumb that is but I’m really scared.”

Alice, calm and composed, and very tender said, “Trudy, while you went upstairs, Howard and I talked. If it’s okay with you, I’ll stay here tonight. It’s probably not good for you to be alone tonight.”

“Ohhhh… Thank you! I really don’t want to  be alone!” I could not imagine trying to care for an elderly man in the night. It was all too overwhelming.

We talked a while longer, and then Howard returned home to their six children, and Alice stayed with me.

I made sure that the Colonel, as I often called him, had everything he needed before we went to bed.  Alice shared my room, my bed. Even the thought of being alone in a room, in the dark, traumatized me.

After chatting with Alice a few more minutes, I fell asleep more easily than I expected, but sleep was restless, broken. No dreams or nightmares, really, just startled to wakefulness, again and again. Every time I woke up, there was Alice, awake.

At around 3:00am a loud thud awakened both Alice and me. We flew out of bed to see what had caused it. Outside my door, George lay on a crumpled heap. He had collapsed, for no apparent reason, on his way back to bed from the bathroom—something that had never happened before. And, of all nights, it had to happen when I was already on edge.

Alice helped me walk George back to bed, and returned to bed, while I checked him to make sure all was well.

“Who was that nice chap that helped you get me back to bed?” he asked.

“That’s my friend Alice. She decided to stay the night,” I said, tucking him back in and turning out his lights.

“Thank her for me,” he said. “It’s good she was here to help.”

Back in bed I thanked Alice for being such a helpful ‘chap’. We talked and laughed, de-stressing from the adrenaline rush.

In the morning I made alternative arrangements for George’s care for a few days.  Alice had invited me to stay with their family, to work through the emotional aftermath.

It was the best thing for me, to be surrounded by children who accepted without judgement, who loved unconditionally. Their youngest son was not quite two, and loved attention. I could have stood in one spot, all day long, tossing him in the air and catching him, without him ever tiring of the game. Between him, a nine-year-old, an 11-yr-old and three teenagers, there was plenty of action.

When we sat down to dinner that evening, Howard welcomed me before prayer. Before starting dinner, the family sang ‘Because He Lives’, a song I had loved in my childhood and teens. We got to the chorus and I tried bravely to sing the words, “because He lives, I can face tomorrow, because He lives, all fear is gone…” But I choked up. I knew it was true. I knew that He was my only hope, but I didn’t feel confident that I could do it.

A tear spilled over in spite of my best efforts. I pushed my chair away from the table and fled. I couldn’t do it. It was too painful. Too raw. How was I to sit at the table, singing cheerfully, surrounded by ‘the perfect family’? I didn’t fit. Didn’t belong. Couldn’t identify. I was broken. They were whole. I was empty and stripped. They were full and together.

I curled up on Cindy’s bed sobbing. Embarrassed. How would I face them again? I couldn’t go back up. I would wait patiently until dinner ended, and then I would try again to blend in.

A hand rested on my shoulder, “What happened Trudy?” Alice had come down to make sure I was okay. I tried to explain.

“Trudy, at our house it’s okay to cry,” she said.

That thought sank in slowly. Emotions? Okay? Accepted? Not shamed? I couldn’t imagine a home where tears were welcomed. Where people were loved when they were down, even encouraged. But she sounded convincing.

“Why don’t you come upstairs again and have dinner?” she said.

“Won’t the children wonder why I ran away?”

“I don’t think they’ll worry about it too much,” Alice said.

I walked upstairs with bloodshot eyes, sat down at the table as though nothing had happened. We talked and laughed again.

It was going to be okay. I was going to be okay.

© Trudy Metzger

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A Silent Torment… A Gentle Haven

It was fall 1990, and life was unraveling. Emotionally, I was a mess. Physically, I was deteriorating. I had been a believer for 3 years and my faith was strong, but something wasn’t right.

At the time I was in a long-distance dating relation with a young man from Pennsylvania, whom I had met in Bible School several months after accepting Jesus as my Saviour, at age 18, three years earlier. We had started writing letters then, but waited to start officially dating until about five months, or so, later.

Now, two and a half years into the relationship, I started to push him away when he came to Canada to see me. His visits triggered depression and I withdrew into a shell, a mental state I could not understand. When he left, I missed him and wished he was here again.

Such was the cycle of love. There was no rhyme or reason to it, really, in my mind. Nor in my then-boyfriend’s. He was confused when I withdrew, and I hated it, but it was as though I couldn’t help myself. Trapped. Unable to identify, unable to speak.

In hindsight I understand it perfectly, but at the time it was torment. For both of us.

Had we been sexually indiscrete, or had he even pushed me for it, I could have understood it. But in our  time together, we had guarded our hearts carefully. We held hands. And we gave each other good-bye hugs. No intimate kissing, though I can’t say with confidence that there had been no little kisses. We had talked early on about what was important to us, and agreed that abstinence was the only standard, and to protect that, we would have strict boundaries. They served us well. This was especially important because of the life I had left behind. I wanted a clear boundary between my life apart from Christ, and my life with Christ. I was determined, by the grace of God, to leave the pain and shame of my former life in the past.

During our relationship I spent quite a bit of time in Lancaster and Lebanon Pennsylvania, and developed many positive friendship with youth and even some church leaders, who made a profound and lasting impact on my life.

Three homes, in particular, stand out. The Hursh’s, my brother-in-law Leonard’s family, allowed me to stay with them, several weeks at a time, helping on the farm and simply being part of their family. Always I was safe in their home. I was my spontaneous, high-energy self, and never felt rejected for it. Mom Hursh, as I sometimes called her, took me shopping for fabric to make my dresses. She gave me the freedom to choose fabrics that probably pushed the edge of what she thought was acceptable, maybe jumped right over that edge, I’m not sure. But I never felt judged. They took me on an extended family deep-sea fishing expedition and made me feel, in every way, a part of their family.

From milking cows, to working in the fields, to helping in the kitchen, I was ‘at home’ in their home, safe, loved and accepted. Their sons were respectful, in every way.

My friend Connie Weaver, who later married one of the Hursh sons, also frequently invited me into her home. It was the safest home I had ever set foot in. There was something special there that I have not encountered before or since, to this day.

Photo Connie’s sister Jewel and her family. Visit their Facebook page and hear their band.

A home filled with deep faith. Genuine prayer. Laughter. Gentleness. Kindness. Passion. Hard work. Beauty. They valued beauty. Music. Always a lot of music.

Connie’s sisters offered friendship and acceptance, cheerfully inviting me into their home and lives. A father who spoke gently, lovingly. A mom who laughed and loved. And cooked. She was second to none when it came to good food. (For those who don’t understand Mennonite cooking, find the nearest Mennonite who cooks that way, and invite yourself to dinner.) Or maybe the food tasted so much better because of the safety to sit, to interact, and to enjoy it.

Mom Weaver was a great story-teller, painting a vivid picture on the mind as she spoke. My favourite story was when she visited her husband’s home for dinner when they were still dating, and ended up tripping down the stairs, embarrassing herself. I can’t remember if she tripped into her future husband’s arms or if we just joked about it, but the story was told with much laughter. She had laughed when it happened, as her way of handling the embarrassment. I liked that about her too, the way she handled embarrassment.

But two memories stand out above the rest, and each is with Connie, and little things she taught me, by example.

One night, a while after lights were out and we had stopped chattering, a question popped in my head. And any of my friends of days gone by who read this blog, and ever had a sleepover with me, could tell you that this would happen repeatedly at almost any sleepover. (The problem was so bad that it even got me in trouble at Numidia Bible School, with a consequence of cleaning bathrooms with my friend Sally Tucker, who had a similar weakness and bunked beside me. Oh what fun we had cleaning together, chattering some more!)

Lying in the dark, I debated whether I should wake Connie to ask her my question, and after several minutes of contemplation, I broke the silence. “Connie, are you still awake?” I whispered.

“Excuse me, Lord, Trudy wants to talk to me,” I heard her say, clearly not talking to me. She had been praying.

I apologized profusely, laughing of course. Her response to my interruption taught me something of non-religious, intimate relationship with God that I had never seen or known before. Something that seemed so shocking at the time, yet so refreshing. That one could speak to God so candidly…

The other image permanently etched in my mind is when we walked into her bedroom one evening, and on her desk was a neatly stacked pile of envelopes to be mailed out. (For the benefit of this generations… back in the day, we sent snail mail letters to our friends. No texting, emailing, etc.) Connie picked up the stack, studying them, flipping through them, a look of frustration on her face. Her little sister had traced every letter, on every envelope. Connie’s writing was meticulous, her envelopes always perfect. Little hands had done a number.

Moments later her sister walked in the room. “Did you do this?” Connie asked. Her sister nodded. What happened next shocked me.

Calmly, gently Connie spoke to her little sister, even though she was clearly upset. No threats. No intimidation. No display of anger. Gently she explained that these get mailed and people have to be able to read the words to get it to the right address. She asked her sister if she understood. Her sister nodded.

“Ok. Run along and play.”

That was it? No rage? No smack? Nothing more? It seemed almost unbelievable, what I had just witnessed. My childhood had been so different. And after I left home at fifteen, I wasn’t around young children much again until I met Howard and Alice, and their family, whom I shall write about in the next several days.

The third outstanding safe home was with Bishop’s Stephen Ebersole and his wife, where I was free to speak of heart issues. They were not harsh, not judging. They loved, listened and laughed with me. We only barely scraped the surface of my story and my pain, but in their home, with almost a dozen children, I found peace and safety.

That was the brighter side of life, the safe haven from the internal torment….

At home, in the final months of my connections to Pennsylvania, something dark and melancholy overtook my heart and spirit. And thank God that it did. If it had not, I might have remained trapped forever in that silent torment. I would most likely have married the young man I dated at that time, without resolving the abuse in my past. And that would have been disastrous.

As it was, with me shutting down, something had to happen. I was desperate. And I let God know it. How hopeless I felt, with no clue why.

God heard my cry.

That same year I started attending Countryside Mennonite Fellowship, a Mid-West Fellowship church, where God began to heal me spiritually, from the abuses of the Conservative Mennonite Church I had been part of previously. I encountered grace. And, while not fully understood by the people in my new church, because there was no way I could possibly blend into a Mennonite culture with my personality, I was loved and received by the youth, and people in general, at the church, for the most part.

In developing friendships, God had a plan that I was completely oblivious to, but one that would bring restoration in ways I didn’t even know I needed it. One of the youth, Cindy, was about two years younger than I and we quickly formed a ‘sister-kind-of-friendship’.

That friendship changed my life. A friend who refused to stand silently by…

 © Trudy Metzger

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