Last night I dreamt I had an epiphany, which went something like this. In the dream I heard a song which moved me deeply in a hauntingly beautiful way. I thought, “This is such a poignant song, I wish one of my sons were here to enjoy it with me.” On the heels of that thought came another: “Why do I need to share my enjoyment with someone else in order to make it valid?” Because, came an answering voice from within, you don’t believe you have the right to enjoy anything unless it also contributes to the pleasure of someone else. And you don’t get that it’s some of your parts who so enjoyed this song. You don’t think they have the right to enjoy things, either. You’re a pleasure anorexic!
Then someone brought me something to embroider, assuming I would be enthusiastic about doing so since I’d done embroidery for them in the past. But I didn’t want to. It suddenly occurred to me that I hated embroidery. Tears were streaming down my face as I handed back the material and said, “I just don’t want to embroider ever again.” This was met with a stupefied stare, followed with some foul words regarding the future of our friendship. My tears kept falling as I realized that this individual had only pretended to be my friend as long as I served a functional role in her life. I thought back over all the things I had done for others in the past, thinking I was so generous and giving when, in reality, I was hooked on giving to others the pleasure I so denied myself.
Pleasure. Such a pleasant sounding word. But fraught with all kinds of nuances for those of us who grew up with devastating abuse. My role in our household was to be functional. I excelled in that. I cleaned house faster and more thoroughly than my mother. Without conscious thought (I realize now) I was always vigilant, super-aware of any little thing I could do to help out. My primary focus was making sure that I waylaid the little stresses and irritants which could light the fuse of my stepdad’s temper. Such a heavy responsibility for a little girl to shoulder!
When my mother told me to go wash my stepdad’s back, I did so obediently, never thinking of the inappropriateness of her sending me on such a mission (especially after she caught him molesting me.)
Opening the bathroom door with trepidation (oh why such sudden fear?), I stepped gingerly inside the steamy room as if it were filled with landmines. There sat my abuser, a monkeyish grin on his face, holding out to me his washrag. (I can’t help wondering now if he deliberately took his baths while my mother was fixing dinner, just so I’d have to be the one to scrub his back.)
I didn’t want to. Didn’t want to touch his back, or any part of his skin. But being the obedient child, I did as I was told. I clenched the washrag and scrubbed hard, just the way he liked it. When I couldn’t help but see his erection arcing out of the water like a purple porpoise, I dissociated. I have no memory of the back washing coming to an end. Of leaving that steamy bathroom with his leering face, closing the door hard behind me. I did what I was sent to do, and died a thousand little deaths in the process.
Today I wish I’d protested. I wish I’d refused to go in there, just once. Staged a mutiny on my behalf. But I didn’t, not ever. I had seen my stepdad use his fists on my older brother. I knew of what he was capable. Plus, and this may have carried more weight with me, I knew God preferred obedient little girls, and I was determined to win back His love even if I lost myself in the process.
I sense that some of my insiders are trying to communicate something to me. Ordinarily I’d assume it was something regarding their own needs. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe some of them are concerned for my own well-being. And for some ineffable reason, I’m not comfortable with that—not at all.
(My parts have plenty to say.)