Thursday, April 29, 2010


Well, I finished the Volf book, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, not too long after my last post. I've been so busy that I just have had no time to talk about it.

Volf discusses the importance of the perspectives of others. It's difficult to disseminate what the truth is in many cases, because there can be several truths (pg 46).

We have a "moral obligation" to remember the past truthfully (pg. 51). If we don't remember things correctly, we mess with our self-identity - not to mention the identity of our aggressors. The temptation is great to judge our aggressors and remember their actions as a part of who they are. While this might help us to feel better, it is not entirely fair to our aggressors. Some of them experience their own traumas, leading them to harm us. They are also potentially misremembering us - how we acted, initiated contact and 'asked for it.'

As all survivors of abuse know, memories have a life of their own (pg. 69). They can sneak up and ruin a perfect day just because a light breeze swept a certain smell to your nose. They also influence how we act towards others and react in situations. I mentioned last time that I'm usually very aware of what's happening around me. This tends to pick up when I'm in big cities or places I haven't really been before. Today, I was in Madison for an interview and parked in a garage. I avoided getting into a small elevator with a man. Walking to my car just before noon in a very well lit area, I had my keys in my hand ready to cut someone across the face - you know, just in case. I know that it's completely irrational, but still I can't stop myself.

Volf also points out the problems with inner healing: She will need to develop a sense that the wrongdoing has not closed off her horizon of future possibilities, that it does not define her identity, and that her life continues to have meaning notwithstanding the wrongdoing, possibly even party because of it." (pg. 76). That part definitely gets to be difficult. I believe that my sexual abuse defines part of who I am - not me as a whole, but my experiential self. I react to things differently because of my experiences. I would not say that I am proud of my abuse - obviously that's a stupid way to say it. It might be better to say that I try to not be ashamed of it. I hold myself back based partially in my abuse - I don't really like to be in crowds or with people I don't know.

In the end, this book helped me to learn more about the effects my memory has on the people around me, and the hidden effects it can have on me.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Healing and Memories

Warning: I'm going to talk about abuse. I tried hard not to put any triggers in. Still, read with caution?

I'm writing my senior paper right now about ethical views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Right now I'm reading a book by Miroslav Volf, a Croatian Christian theologian. The subject of the book, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, is how to remember violence correctly. Volf himself was spent time being interrogated and held in the former Yugoslavian region, and so has had to learn how to deal with this subject quite personally.

I began reading this book because a professor assumed it would help with my paper. The last book he recommended didn't really help all that much so I was skeptical. However, quickly into starting the book this afternoon, I realized that this book was helping me on a much more personal level. I'm only halfway through the book right now, but I feel like it's helping.

Volf acknowledges that memories display themselves often, whether they are triggered by something or not: "The reason is obvious: to relive those experiences is painful, even in memory. When we remember the past, it is not only past; it breaks into the present and gains a new lease on life." (pg 21). For anyone who has suffered sexual abuse, this makes all the more sense. We cannot feel free if we are still living through these events. In essence, our abusers have a hold on us forever.

Volf argues that memory is "central to identity. To the extent that we sever ourselves from memories of what we have done and what has happened to us, we lose our true identity. We must hold fast to our memories along with the pain; otherwise we will not be true to ourselves. So salvation lies in memory insofar as that memory prevents us from distorting our essential selves and living a lie." (pg 24). In essence, by denying the abuse that we have endured, we lose pieces of ourselves - pieces necessary to really know and be honest with ourselves... and others.

We can't sit here and dwell on our abuse. That's completely unhealthy. It also isn't the most healthy thing to do to run around and tell everyone what you've been through. So what do we do then?

Honestly, I have no clue. It's not like there's a right answer. I guess it just has to do with what works for you. I can't remember most of my abuse. What I do remember... There's no way I can share that with anyone. It makes it really difficult to have good relationships with people, though, when you can't share things that are bothering you because they're related to the abuse. Maybe there should be a code word or phrase - I can say that instead of having to tell people what's going on with me.

Volf says that healing doesn't begin once we remember what has happened. We have to go further and integrate these memories into our story. We have to interpret what our memories mean and use them as a part of our identities (pg 27-28). I can't say I'm ready for that.

He also touches on one of the most integral points for me...
The memory of their own persecution [insert abuse type here] makes them see dangers lurking even where there are none; it leads them to exaggerate dangers that do exist and overreact with excessive violence or inappropriate preventative measures so as to ensure their own safety. Victims will often become perpetrators precisely on account of their memories [remember, this book isn't specifically geared towards sexual abuse]. It is because they remember past victimization that they feel justified in committing present violence. Or rather, it is because they remember their past victimization that they justify as rightful self-protection what to most observers looks like violence born of intolerance or even hatred. So easily does the protective shield of memory morph into a sword of violence. (pg 33)
I will never reveal what kinds of abuse I've endured, or by whom (for the most part). But this makes perfect sense. If you've been abused by a boyfriend in the past, you will react strangely to things going on in current relationships. If you were abused by a girl your age as a child, you usually aren't going to get along with other girls that well, especially your own age... And it's not because you don't try.

I am always very aware of my surroundings - who is in the area, where the exits are, what I could use to beat someone if need be. I'm focused so much on that stuff that I am not necessarily focused on being your best friend in the whole wide world. I'm so paranoid of being vulnerable that it's difficult to be in a long-term relationship without freaking out every now and then - whether or not the relationship is romantic. I try really hard not to let it show, but it's always in the back of my mind. People with whom I have a relationship hold a certain power over me, and that's something that can be scary to someone who has been abused.

So how do we really heal from all of this? I'll tell you what Volf has to say as I finish his book. In the meantime, it's not a bad book to read if you've been through abuse or know someone who has. For the latter, it might help you understand someone better.