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The Promise
Liberation

When I was in grade school, I had so many things I loved to do that I was never sure what I’d be when I grew up.  I loved animals, and sometimes I wanted to be a veterinarian.  I loved nature, and spent a lot of time outside my house, watching living things in the fields and by the river and pond.  At those times I wanted to be a zoologist.  I loved reading psychology books, especially Karl Meninger and Erich Fromm, and was particularly interested in dreams.  I also loved art and poetry, and thought I would write, or paint. 

But the thing I wanted most to be when I grew up was something I kept secret from adults who asked me about my future plans.  I wanted most to be free of my parents – my adoptive parents.  I had come to live with them at age 5 from a foster home, and I lived with them as their only child, on a farm where I spent a lot of time in isolation.  My adoptive mother had not wanted children, and later told me that people had to have children back then (the sixties) or be rejected socially.  She resented me from the very start, and constantly made me aware of how I didn’t measure up to her expectations. My adoptive father was a disturbed man who harmed me in many ways, and who also allowed his friends to harm me.  

By the time I reached puberty I was severely depressed, and had tried to hang myself.  I wasn’t successful because the pain of the strap around my neck was excruciating.  I burned my skin with matches over and over, because it helped me to bring the pain to the outside from the inside.  For some reason, it seemed more manageable on the outside. Once I was talking on the phone to a girlfriend, and told her about the burning.  My mother was listening in on our conversation, and for the rest of the day she followed me around the house, saying in a mocking, spiteful voice “How does it feel playing Joan of Arc?  It’s no fun being Joan of Arc, is it?” 

I wanted to run away but I was afraid of what my adoptive father would do to me if I were caught.  After one run-in with my mother, in which she grabbed me by the hair on the top of my head and shook my head back and forth while screaming at me, I ran up to my closet and hid.  I crouched in the closet sobbing for a couple of hours, and promised myself over and over that when I grew up, I would break free of that family. I was 12 then. 

It would be another 18 years before I kept my promise.  By then, I was married and had two sons, an infant and a toddler, and I was living 1500 miles away in another state.  I had begun therapy because memories from my past were nipping at my heels, tormenting me all the time.  Some of these memories were of events I’d always been conscious of, but had chosen not to dwell on.  Others I had locked away, safely out of mind, but they were stirring in their little dungeon, calling out to me and rattling their chains throughout my days and in my dreams at night.  

I realized I had to deal with the past or risk living my life in unmanageable pain.  I wanted to be fully present for my husband and my sons. I wanted to understand the truth about my past, because I knew that suppressing that truth would destroy my intimate relationships.  But most of all, I wanted to be me, the person who once loved animals, plants, and the earth, and art and literature; who had an active, curious mind; who had ideas and insights to contribute to the world.  That person lived inside me, shrouded by a numb, suffering ghost-woman so full of sadness that she could barely think. 

As I began speaking—with the encouragement of my therapist-- with my adoptive parents about events in our past, they became increasingly hostile and resentful.  My adoptive father suggested to my husband that I was delusional, or perhaps surreptitiously using drugs, and that I needed to be institutionalized.  He ridiculed my therapist’s support for me in confronting my past. It became clear that he and my mother were dead set against my treatment plan, and would not support it in any way.  

I understood that they felt guilty and had some serious misdeeds to hide.  I also understood that there was not enough love on either side to enable sorting through old hurts and building a new relationship.  I wish I could say that I was disappointed about that, but it was a relief to have reason to distance myself from them.  For several months I limited my contact with them, and later severed all ties. 

This was a difficult period.  I received hate letters from people back home.  My husband’s parents were scandalized and angry.  There was a period of time when my only allies were my therapist and my husband.  I subsequently didn’t speak to my mother-in-law for five years, and my relationship with my husband’s stepmother never recovered.  The message I kept getting over and over was that I should forgive, move on, and pretend all those things never happened—or admit that they never really did happen.  But through it all I possessed the conviction that I was doing the right thing.  I was purposefully choosing safety for myself, which for me was a radical act.  And I was keeping my promise. 

That was 23 years ago.  Since then my life as an adult has mostly been about raising my children and healing myself.  I’ve suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder my entire adult life, and although I make progress each year, I still do not feel as though I have shaken off all the fetters that hold me back.  I still possess the creative potential I’ve felt within me since childhood, but I am now 53, and I feel that my time is running out.  The chances are slim that I will achieve much that is measurable by the standards of our production-oriented culture.  But because of the healing work I’ve done, I’ve developed a very rich interior life.  I spend a lot of time alone working at my loom and drawing.  I’m starting to develop a distinctive voice as an artist.  I am still learning to trust other people, and myself.  

My dream is to someday publicly exhibit my work, and to explore other ways to share with fellow travelers the insights I’ve gained about healing. That doesn’t necessarily mean a book or the lecture circuit, as I know we can often touch others most deeply in informal, unscripted encounters.  I try not to think too much about the future, reminding myself often that the future is now. I am living the promise I made to myself long ago.  That promise cuts through time and space.  It is a direct, living link between my present self, older and wiser, and the self I once lived.  The self I am now was with that girl in the closet, and helped her survive and heal.

Comments
17 Comment count
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I feel you

Hi, I read this and feels your pain.No child deserves this experience, whether a biological or adopted child.

But you are brave and courageous and having made whole of your self out of the horrible experience in childhood is truly a remarkable journey of personal healing.

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Thank you

Lorelyn,

 Thank you for your comments.  I like the way you describe healing as making "whole of your self" -- yes, it is like putting pieces back together into a whole.

Best wishes,  Ruth

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Keeping your promise...

is what He wanted all along for 'you' to live in. I am so glad that you remember it every day.

May you be blessed to continue your creativity in art or whatever your heart desires that bring you JOY!

Thank you VERY much for reminding me with "The Promise" that He keeps.

Your story is so courageous and inspiring; its truths can't help but benefit us all.

Truly,

Catherine Nagle

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Yes!

Catherine,

Yes, you're right. . . I do think our power to heal comes from a source greater than our individual selves.   And yes, it is always encouraging us to choose healing, and it is always available to give us strength and inspiration.  I do not think we can heal, or create, without connecting with that greater consciousness.  Thank you, Ruth

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Right Back at You...

I think we may have "companion pieces"! Though I felt you really fleshed out the intricacies of healing and "growing up" much better.

"How does it feel playing Joan of Arc? It’s no fun being Joan of Arc, is it?”

That's a chilling line.

And this is real life:

"I know we can often touch others most deeply in informal, unscripted encounters. I try not to think too much about the future, reminding myself often that the future is now. I am living the promise I made to myself long ago. That promise cuts through time and space."

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Ruth, I'm so glad you shared

Ruth, I'm so glad you shared this inspiring piece. It's heart wrenching to know that you had to go through so much pain. It's uplifting, though, that you were able to find peace and healing, which comes through in your writing, leaving us wonderful bursts of light.

"I do not think we can heal, or create, without connecting with that greater consciousness." Nicely put. I wholeheartedly agree.

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Thank you.

Rebecca, thank you so much for your comment. I am wishing you the best.

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Children of the Sixties

Ruth,
I was thinking about what I would write in my blog (my first one ever here) and I thought I would read yours just to get an idea of what people would write about. It's so real, I guess that's the answer. I was there too, there was a really nice exterior and a really desperate, painful interior in my home growing up too. And why can we repress it so well early in life, but then after getting married to a great guy and having great kids -- it comes back and won't readily go away? I too have had a lot of therapy and personal work over the years, but now at 54 the burning comments, the self-esteem blowing scenes, still have a way of cutting in and out of my conscious. I just carry on and wish sooner or later I could forget about it. I guess if nothing else it enables me to be more introspective about the actions and reactions of others, and to never ever treat my own children the way I was treated.

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Many thanks

It is very powerful to hear from other people that they had similar experiences. "It comes back and won't readily go away," is certainly my experience.

I wonder if it's like back pain after a spinal injury--you can heal it to some degree, but there will always be some pain which you just have to accept and work with. I do agree it teaches us introspection, and wisdom too, both of which have great value.

To have grown up as you did, and then gone on to have a positive marriage and a loving relationships with your kids is a real accomplishment. You must be doing a lot of things right.

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You May Never Realize

You are doing one of the hardest things to do. I know from my own experiences. I stand up and cheer you on for the fact that you are determined to recalled what is yours and your refusal to allow them to continue to abuse you mentally. You may never realize by speaking out how many people you will or have touched and given them the courage to find that voice within that pushes them to stand up as well. You have my undying respect and you are in my prayers :)

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Thank you Kimberly

Your comments mean a lot to me. I do hope there are others who can draw courage from my story. I think healing is never just for ourselves, but for the larger human family.

Many thanks.

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The larger human family...

Ruth--I had never read you before. Your first line attracted me. I thought I was going to be reading about this happy fabulous childhood with parents offering you all these opportunities in life. You did all loving completely on your own. Amazing. What a fine writer you are. And what a heart-wrenching story you told. I was almost cheering out loud through my tears when you wrote: "and later severed all ties." These people were not parents at all--but enemies. Not the kind of people anyone would want to associate with. I am glad you no longer have to. Your explanation on the reason for the burning was so helpful. I imagine that also explains much cutting. It is amazing how much work you have done to survive all this and come through as the real you--"the person who once loved animals, plants, and the earth, and art and literature; who had an active, curious mind; who had ideas and insights to contribute to the world." Congratulations. I know your insights, horrible experiences, and healing work will do immeasurable good as you continue writing and expressing yourself through your art. Thus, you will be bringing good out of those cruel people's evil behavior. What a victory you have achieved!

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Thank you

Sue,

Your words of encouragement mean a lot to me.  I appreciate them so much, since having allies is important to healing and moving forward.  Whether the words come from people in the flesh or people I hear from via computer, those words are fuel for the journey.  Thank you so much.

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another family member speaks:

It is coincidental that yours is the first blog I read on this site when I was pondering stepping back into my childhood for today's topic: Happiness.

As a child, I too, lived for the day I would be out of my home. And as a psychotherapist, I can't tell you how many teens I have told throughout the years, "Your life will start when you are 18 and move out of that house . . . hang on and remind yourself of that every day."

I didn't suffer the degree of torture that you did, but pain is pain for children and too much of it damages souls.

I admire you for your courage and commitment to not let the abuse continue throughout your life and refusing to be further controlled by the abusers. That takes strength; strength that carried you through childhood and makes you the insightful, articulate person you are today.

Peace be with you now and always ... find it when you can and embrace it as long as you are able.

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Thank you

Amy,

I appreciate your response to my blog, and yes I do agree that "pain is pain for children and too much of it damages souls."

I believe that whatever happened in your early life was significant for you, and it both hurt you and also helped you by being a catalyst for your growth. I do think there is a gift in all experience, although sometimes finding it can be a challenge.

I hope you will find time to write; your years growing up sound really interesting (I read your bio), also, the things you're involved in now professionally could make for very interesting reading. Your muse is ready whenever you are!

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You are Blessed, You Are Bold, You Are Brave!

I was so moved by the sweet, gentle telling of your life story. It did not reek of bitterness or anger, but expressed a pain that ran deep and defined your life at first. It was so clear to me that as you walked through that pain, searing into your heart, mind and body, you were stripping away everything that hid from you your soul. Although the journey was difficult, the rewards were great. You are weaving from the messy, painful threads of your life a beautiful tapestry that you will one day show the world. I am so proud of you. If you have an opportunity, check out a book called "Radical Forgiveness--Making Room for the Miracle." I have done this work with so many people whose lives parallel yours. Be Blessed, Be Bold, Be Brave.

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Thank you

Thanks so much for your response--I appreciate your kind and encouraging words. Yes, I will certainly check out "Radical Forgiveness." I've heard the title but haven't taken a look at it yet. I think it may be time for it now.

Best wishes.