“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles”
Several years ago I went to the movie theater towatch a film called A Thousand Acres. I was only vaguely aware of its theme. As Imunched on popcorn and sipped my coke I looked around and noticed that only one other person was in the theater. The movie started and no one new came in during the film. The film had incest as its central theme. It had to do with a farmer in Iowa that had a thousand acres and decided that he wanted to divide it up between his three daughters while he was still alive. The daughters were dubious about the whole affair but, along with their husbands, decided to accept their dad’s offer. In the unfolding of the story we find out that the two older girls had been severely beaten and raped repeatedly by their father when they were teenagers. Their father, a grizzled, cantankerous patriarch who is unstable and a bully decides he wants the farm back and sues them. When the movie ended I found myself having slid down my seat, my arms bunched together at my sides and my head hanging low enough to hurt my neck. I held my breath as the other person left the theater, praying she couldn’t see my face. I sat for several moments feeling shame and fear. I had already gone through recovery for incest and felt I’d worked a successful program. Here I was, my heart beating an echo in my chest as I slowly and surreptitiously made my exit from the theater hoping no one would be
able to see which movie theater I had been in. Today, I’ve changed.
I think of that moment now as I battle family and friends who are not happy with my involvement in trying to eradicate child sexual abuse. At the very least they want me to tone it down. I think about that. I hadn’t known that I had a high profile. I didn’t feel as if I had been ramming it down people’s throats or even talking about it at family gatherings. My son thinks I made the whole thing up (don’t I wish) so I’m sure not to mention the Lamplighters or the sale of any of my REPAIR books to him. It’s not worth a family argument. As a general rule I don’t discuss it at family gatherings and everyone is aware of what I’m doing. If they want an update they can ask me. My two older daughters had been uncomfortable about what I was doing and some of my granddaughters as well. My youngest daughter was the only one who thought I needed to talk about it as, per the Centers for Disease Control, silence is the single reason why it is epidemic. I recently realized that a granddaughter of mine, who treated me like I had leprosy, was probably acting that way because she was embarrassed and ashamed of what I was doing, putting family business onthe street. I understood and even felt as if I were in her shoes I would feel the same way. It’s a shameful business with no good way to state it that would make people comfortable. If anyone wished it hadn’t happened it would be me. My oldest daughter was finally coming around and saying that she was proud of what I was doing. But there were still others……………
I thought about friends who visited from the small town in Nebraska where I grew up. I thought of how I spoke of what had happened to me openly and honestly while I served them some of my wicked pot roast. Some I never heard from again. I had neighbors in where I lived who I had spoken to about it. Despite the annual Christmas buffet that we gave for all of them we never heard from them during the year and recently decided to discontinue the buffet. I didn’t know if I made them uncomfortable or not. They may have been fine with what I was doing. But I remembered how many times the subject was changed, no questions were asked regarding how the sale of the books was coming or how many Lamplighter chapters did I have now. True, I had some champions. But I also had close friends who felt I should tone it down and try to think about how uncomfortable I was making people. It was food for thought.
I remembered speaking at one of the local civic organizations about what had happened to me and what I was trying to do with the Lamplighters. Everyone in the room averted their eyes from me. One man even got up, turned his chair backwards and sat with his back turned to me the entire time.
I decided to put a photo of one of my granddaughters running on the beach in Hawaii on the cover of my latest book and sent her a copy thinking she would be proud and excited it. She didn’t respond. I left her a voice mail message. Nothing. I sent her a Facebook message and an email. No response. Finally, I called her mother. My daughter told me that she wanted to know if it was a book about that “yucky” sex stuff. (it wasn't) She was old enough to know the facts of life and even to be dating. I felt bad that something I thought would make her happy was, in fact, an embarrassment to her, a reminder that I wrote about that “yucky” sex stuff.
I could discontinue my work with the Lamplighters. I could make sure I never made any mention on any of the social organizations I belonged to of what happened to me when I was thirteen. I could cancel any speaking engagements and not book any more. I could apologize to family and friends for what I was doing and tell them I was curtailing all of my
involvement with helping to stop child sexual abuse.
I could…… but I won’t. I have found my purpose in life and to walk away from it would be like denying my own existence. If I have reached and helped even one it is worth it. I feel bad that others are embarrassed, think I made it up, don’t want to hear about it, are not curious about where I am with it. It makes me feel alone. If I hadn’t gone through
recovery it would make me feel ashamed. Not just ashamed, but that deep well of having no self-worth, of having done something “yucky”, something so bad that I must never speak its name would overwhelm me. But thank God I did a good job in recovery. I may tone it down. I may be more understanding about the discomfort some people feel and refrain from discussing it with them. I may try to focus more about the positive outcome from recovery, about the joy of the healing process. I will have to “suffer the slings and arrows” and heed them not. I cannot and will not be silent.