Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Shame

Shame is what keeps up quiet and hidden. It is what makes us feel undeserving of the air we breathe and the sunlight on our faces. The shame we endure drives us deeper into the shadows.

My mother waited to tell my sister the deep, dark revelation of our family life until she graduated from eighth grade; she didn't want to taint her last few months of school with the dark burden that had suddenly descended. That meant that my mother and I were to carry it alone.

We were like prisoners of our dark secret, and sometimes prisoners turn on each other. It seemed as though my mother became my enemy as the future of my family quickly dissolved. In the madness of "could this possibly be?" I no longer knew if I could trust her. But more than madness, shame had a roll to play. And with a few small words my mother was able to take away everything that she had taught us would comprise our value.

My siblings and I were raised in a religion that emphasized purity - especially that of the sexual nature. The Unification Church taught us that sex before or outside of marriage was a sin worse than death. To sin in that way was to Fall, and it was considered an irrevocable fall from grace.

Our mother had once said that God could not forgive sexual predators, because that was a pain that even God didn't know how to heal for the victim. I was agonized with the thought that I might have lost some form of sexual innocence without even remembering it, and without even having had the power to stop it. You see, my mom was convinced that IF our father had sexually abused myself and my sister, that we must have been very young. Too young to remember

In fact, my mother would sometimes say, she was almost convinced that I couldn't have been part of the abused. I was too normal. My grades were too good. It just didn't add up.

My depression and inability to socially normalize, therefore, were my own fault I decided. And I wasn't sure how to handle the "what if" question as it pertained to myself. Part of me felt guilty that I somehow might not have been subjected to this same awful, potential trauma while my other siblings had almost definitely endured it. But at the same time part of me resented that my straining to stay afloat in a life that seemed painful beyond endurance indicated that somehow I was normal and okay - when I was certain that I was not.

That's when the shame began its slow burn. But like a tiny ember, it grew into a flame that would engulf my being over the coming years. The fact that this question had even entered into my family life felt like a brand burned into my chest, an open seeping wound for the world to see. It was a mark by which I knew that my world would judge me.

We lived in an "under rug swept" world. It was an unspoken law that not only was I not to speak of this to my sister, but once my sister knew we were not to speak of it to anyone. Not a single person.

When my mom finally told my sister, it felt like one more comrade had come to the part of the sinking ship. Somehow the thought that we were all drowning together held little comfort. But she and I held up marvelously, keeping our heads down and our eyes tear-free during church.

It's hard to exist in a world of absolutes. There was no such thing as forgiveness for falling in those days, although the culture of the church changed years later. Without having committed any crime, we were marked as guilty and that was an unremovable burden.

Somehow, worse than that, was the mark of damaged goods that we bore simply by coming from a dysfunctional family. Though there had always been pain, screaming and abuse, those were all things that we had been complicit in covering up in order to save face. The world need not know about the dirty laundry and the bruises that might fade over time.

But this, this held far greater implications for our future and had the potential to mark us as outcasts for the rest of our lives. Because if God could not heal and forgive, then why should anyone else even attempt to forgive us these collective sins that had been bestowed upon us?

For this we faced the future as untouchables and we realized that we would no longer have a place in the world, certainly not in the world we had grown up knowing. We were taught that we were in the world, but not of it. We were different, as children of the Unification Church. The church was to comprise our entire community; we were not encouraged to associate with the Outside World.

Suddenly we realized that we no longer had a world in which to live.

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