12 steps and making amends
Friday April 24, 2009
Dear Dr. Miller,
Thank you for your clear message about the pressure to love and honor our parents. I have been in counseling of some form since the age of 15 when my sister was arrested for selling drugs at her junior high school. We went into family therapy and that started my journey. With the help of a number of talented therapists, I have been able to remember quite far back into my life. When I was at the age that I was sleeping in a crib, I felt so confused because I was alone for so long at times and when comfort and food came, I felt that somehow, I must not have been human, maybe an animal or even an alien, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been treated this way. It was neglect that put me at risk for being sexually abused(rape & molestation) by 12 different peoplef rom the time I was five until I was 21 years old. Although I was regularly in therapy for depression and low-self esteem, it took until I got married at the age of 23 to discover that what happened to me was not normal, but something called sexual abuse. In the first year of marriage and trying to live with someone, sleep with someone and be so intimately sexually active with someone, I gained 90 pounds in the first year of marriage. At this point I joined my first 12-step program and started to receive some caring support and help. I was able to lose all of the weight I had gained, but as I did this I started to have memories and feelings that didn’t make much sense. I started to work the 12 steps which was good because this got me to start writing about how I felt. That’s when I entered a sexual abuse recovery group for women. It was in this group that I discovered that what had happened to me was a) terribly wrong/abusive/not how all children are treated b) that the parents that I had trusted to be so loving and kind allowed these things to happen because of their neglect. It was like stepping on a landmine and everyone in the room can see that you have blown-up to bits but you. Then these caring women walked me through my thought processes and eventually I had an aha moment. It was one of the worst moments of my life. The life I thought I had with my parents and family was a fantasy, a protection from the reality of so much abuse. By working my 12 step program eventually, I spoke with my mother about the abuse that I had suffered. My mother told me that I was such a smart child, because I knew that she couldn’t have handled the situation if I had told her what was actually happening to me when I was young. At first I felt good about myself that I was a “Good Girl,” because I had known to protect my mother from the tragic things that were happening to me all around her. When I spoke with my sexual abuse group about this, I was telling them how good ai felt about myself for protecting my mother from something she couldn’t handle. Again, these women intervened on my behalf and walked me through how horrible a thing it was for my mother to say to me. Another Aha moment. I was still working my 12 step program and it came a time for me to make amends to my parents for the ways that I had hurt them. We did also discuss the abuse that I had gone through. This felt really crazy to me. My father was devastated and so was my mother when they learned of how extensive and violent the abuse had been through-out my life. Making amends to them seemed backwards to me. I went down my list of ways that I had hurt or deceived them. This was seen as good and what I should be doing to recover in my 12 step program around my addiction to food! Experiencing so much abuse made me not trust my own instincts and I was overly vulnerable to people trying to help me. With more help and support from some good therapists I have been able to go to college, get a job, get married and eventually have a child. My husband is also from a difficult background and in some ways we have been able to support each other in healing from trauma, we understand what it’s like to live with these type of demons. When I hit menopause, I hit another trouble spot again. I felt so scared, so angry and I had to take over our family, I couldn’t trust my husband to do his part, I just had to take everything over. I couldn’t talk to anybody about it, I just had to act. I bought rental property in another state, fixed it up and lived there for 3-5 weeks at a time. I found a place to start reliving my childhood traumas all over again. I finally fired the marriage counselor that my husband I had and found someone new to help us. We have both been working 12 step programs all along this process. We found a new marriage counselor who has with the deepest amount of utter patience and respect, has been helping us to see how my husband and I trigger each other, and to go over the events in our childhood that caused these feelings. We are, along with our therapist being the “Good Witnesses,” to each other. This process has been torturous in it’s own way but we are going into the eye of the storm of both of our lives and seeing how much when we react to each other with terrible anger, hatred or resentment that our past gives us a perfectly clear map of why this happens. This helps us understand and be supportive of each other which is tremendous. We learn that the strong reactions have not much to do with each other but the trauma from the past. I can see how by being honest no matter how much it hurts, we are led to the nuggets of gold, gems and pearls that are the raw beauty of our deep childlike wholeness that is screaming out to be heard and tended too. I can see how for me, I have been circling the wagons of my emotions around the deep hatred, betrayal and disappointment that I feel about my parents. That they could be so blind to the sexual abuse that was happening to their daughter because of the neglect of the attention to the daughter and the people they trusted to be with her. It has taken me a long time to feel strong enough inside myself to feel this much anger. I have seen now how strong I am and how I can find people to help me along my journey that can be caring, loving and kind. You Alice Miller are one such person. Your books have been treasure maps to my psyche, they’ve supported my inclings and validated my process in ways that no one else has or could. Please, keep writing and digging and I promise to do the same.
Although my 12 step work has helped me deeply and the people I have met there have been generous beyond measure with their love and comfort, I will no longer stay silent about making amends to parents and that all of the feelings, hatred, betrayal, resentment, etc. must be owned, respected and followed for recovery to progress. To deny this is to keep a profound piece of the denial buried in plain sight.
You may use this letter in your public letter spot on your website. I look forward to your comments, thoughts and feelings about my letter.
AM: Fortunately, you can eventually see how dangerous, feeble-minded and cruel it is to demand from survivors of child abuse that they make amends. You feel that the 12 steps helped you to your recovery but I have the impression that perhaps you were lucky to meet with some empathic people in your life who could help you. On the other hand, without this disgusting, hypocritic poisonous ideology you would have had helped yourself much quicker. Because you ARE smart but you were never allowed to defend yourself and had to learn very early to protect your parents instead of protesting against THEIR CRUELTY. The same was repeated in your 12-program, you were supposed to oversee hypocrisy and betrayal and feel grateful for it instead of opening the eyes and feel the rage where it was absolutely justified. Your letter shows very clearly how even smart people become stuck in confusion for years if the “healers” demand from them the same as the parents did from the child: to stay blind, to forgive, to make amends, not to make troubles. The fear of the parents, stored up in the body, can make a person obedient and sick for ever. I hope that you can overcome this fear by seeing though the hypocrisy of your helpers and TALKING about what you see.