October 19, 2007

Eve: A Special Hatred

Gauguin (Breton Eve, 1889)



As some of you know, I was sexually molested when I was 17 by a Christian doctor. I'm now 55 and while some might say it's all "water under the bridge" and that I need to get on with my life (I am after all a grandmother), I am learning otherwise. It's water that took the bridge out.

For health reasons, my parents had put me in the care of family friends in Arizona my senior year of high school--and the minister of the church this family and I attended recommended that Mum place me under the medical supervision of a doctor who was also the Young Life leader at Scottsdale High. The man literally held my life in his hands; he was endorsed on two counts by the church; and he molested me. Not until I was 29 and coming out of a destructive marriage did I ever tell that it happened--though I could not speak of the details and still can't. At 29 I had single parenting and all its attendant difficulties on my plate, and when my youngest went off to college several years ago I had recuperation from the seventeen years of single parenting on my plate. What happened in Arizona, by necessity remained on a back burner.

Too, there was no real drive to pay much attention because I was (and am) fully aware that my molestation is nothing in contrast to what too many women and children have suffered (and suffer). And as miserable as my subsequent marriage was (once abused, you attract abusers), there are thousands of marriages far worse. To deal with my own "insignificant" psychoses has felt to me rather selfish; my limited energy seemed better spent on those who "really" suffered. Like my children. Like my neighbor. Like the stranger at a party who confides.

But then the flashbacks began two years ago, and I can no longer ignore the bubbling pot on the back burner of my life. So in two weeks I fly back to Phoenix for the first time in nearly four decades. My destination? The doctor's office in Scottsdale where I lost what feels to be 90% of myself. And then the church where I was married and lost everything else.

I have no idea what I'll learn and I'm apprehensive. I'm just sort of hoping, I guess, that seeing the buildings where it all happened will break something loose inside of me, and give me back myself. It feels a bit melodramatic, going back into time to save myself, but friends from that era have encouraged me, some rallying and coming alongside me in this uncharted venture: Carol, sister of my best friend at the time, and Rita, my former minister's wife, now eighty years old. This alone is immensely healing and serves to remind me of who I was then.

Too, last night I climbed into bed and picked up a book my friend Rachel had lent me. Rachel is actually Rita's daughter and part of the youth group in Arizona that sheltered and loved me during that year of sexual debasement. Ironically, Rachel now lives near me in the Pacific Northwest. We discovered each other last Easter and we share a love for books, ideas, and gardening. This last book she lent me proved to be about female wounding and how to be healed from the cancerous violation of our femininity. Apropos, I thought, delving in.

The authors had an interesting starting point. They went back to creation and Adam not being enough--hence Eve. She wasn't created for Adam, but to complete creation. She was the "best saved for last." Or, as my brother-in-law might say, "the heart of the watermelon and not the rind."

I'm not a big fan of Christian dogma and the church; much of my troubles stem from Christianity as it's practiced today. But I understand and appreciate cultural stories and God's transcultural communication through them, everything from Cinderella to Uncle Remus to Genesis. I was pleased to discover the authors of Captivating discuss the Hebrew word ezer--which has so lamely been translated "helpmeet" in the English Bible--and which has been used to provide divine mandate for female subservience in all its debilitating forms.

The word is used only 21 times in the Old Testament; once when referring to Eve's relationship to Adam; the other 20 times occur when speaking of God's relationship to Israel. He will be the ezer to Israel. It's a Hebrew word which is undefinable in English. The best translation is "the saving glory," or "you will die without my help," or "saving power of beauty."

John and Stasi Eldredge went on to say that the Hebrew Satan went after Eve not because she was the "weaker vessel" or the "great seducer" (both notions so prevalent in the church it makes me crazy) but because she was the saving force, the beauty and crown of creation, the now-it-is-perfect pinnacle. And that at her creation, Satan became enraged, for this had been his job before getting cast from heaven for hubris pride. Once he'd been the guardian, the beautiful, the powerful in heaven's domain! Now here was Eve?

It became imperative he crush the one who "usurped" all that he'd lost. And ever since her downfall, the Eldredges think, Satan's maintained a specific and enduring hatred of everything women are.

I'm not sure why I was blind to this very cogent observation. Many men go out of their way to stifle similar fear and jealousy by beating it out of us, using and abusing us, rendering us incapable so we can be judged incapable. They've written sexual and physical abuse into the codes of every religion, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and it permeates every culture from the cave dwellers to 2007. The misogyny of men is well documented and pervasive; and in Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge summarize this brutality chronologically and culturally.

They underscore their awful point that Satan targets women specifically by pointing out that mere men can't be this methodical. Most men are not this mean, for one thing. Nor are men who are this mean so dedicated, or smart enough to carry out such wholesale and consistent annihilation down through time. The issue of abuse against women is bigger than mere men. Abuse of women goes to the very core of evil itself.

Something here struck a chord. How many times have I felt the power of evil unleashed--sometimes in a slow, torturous crushing; sometimes in mind-boggling blows? How many times has my own mother remarked that it's as though the Biblical Lucifer blocked every good thing from my life?

The authors point out that this kind of wounding is systematic and well-thought through. Men are often used to level the hammer, it is true, but it's the message behind the hammer that is the most damaging. All forms of abuse come attached with the same destructive messages, and women everywhere know the lingo. We're worthless, unlovable, fraudulent, pariahs upon society and deserve our abuse. We're not skinny enough, thankful enough, brave enough, strong enough, worthy enough. We're too stupid, too smart, too ugly, too pretty, too passive, too aggressive. We seduce, mislead, and generate misery. These messages linger and fester and invite further abuse; and which is why, at fifty-five I'm stuck at seventeen. The messages hold me back. This is the damage I (and everyone like me) suffer from.

Last night Rita said something on the phone while we went over the arrangements for my upcoming visit. I started to cry. This confused me. Finally I confessed, "I have never cried about this, Rita."

My tears astonished me. And the fact I hadn't known until then that I had never cried over the loss of my sexuality, the very core of my identity, astonished me further.

"You've never cried?" Rita too was astonished.

I stayed up late reading Rachel's book. I awoke this morning with two thoughts in my head. One, that I really must go back and rescue myself. Two, that my doctor and the man I consequently married were more messenger than perpetrator and this took the sting out of my fear.

No, three thoughts...the third arrived after the coffee. I can shoot the messenger.

And so I go back to 1969, to try and and find who I once was. To metaphorically shoot the messengers who wounded me. And to connect with people who once helped define and sustain me as I limped into womanhood.

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My question: Is the brutality of women really a battle between good and evil? Or is this a new Christian terminology for a problem a few Christians are apparently trying to acknowledge and explain? Is there another language we can use to find healing from the violation of our sexuality? And why is it that we need to?

More importantly, what about the victimization of children, girls and boys? Women aren't the only ones to suffer rampant cruelty.

Finally, can it ever be stopped? Is there no hope for myself? For my grandchildren?

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16 comments:

  1. These are thought-provoking questions, Brenda. I must say that the Eldredge hypothesis really resonates for me. I have not yet read their book and may need to pick it up.

    For us Orthodox, the beauty of all humanity is shown by the first Christian, Mary. She is what we can be -- a fully "divinized" person.

    I would say that the violation of women is absolutely a battle between good and evil. As well as the violation of children.

    It seems that much healing could happen if we could keep this in mind rather than vilifying an entire gender. This is a battle between good and evil that has manifested itself as a gender war.

    I was listening to my dad say some particularly vicious things the other day and it struck me that it's like someone else is inside him -- like it's not his true self talking. I found that I could not be outraged -- only sad.

    I honor your healing journey. You will heal many.

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  2. Leslie Drury11:38 PM

    Brenda - Thanks for sharing this. I haven't given a whole lot of thought to your questions, but I'll share what's been troubling my heart lately. My little eight-year-old son has become so modest of late. We all get the door slammed in our faces. He won't even let me see him in his underwear (even with a leg injury he had the other day). Lately in the news we've been hearing about horrible molestations involving boys. It horrifies me and frightens me to think that someone would violate a sweet little boy like my son - who is so painfully modest. My mind refuses to even entertain the thought because it would overwhelm me with grief and fear. God gifts us with innocence and modesty, and satan steals it away in a moment. We need to be damn angry about that, just as God is angry when one of His little ones is violated and betrayed. I pray that God will have his vengeance on those who side with the enemy and are hurting these little ones.
    God WILL have His way with them and they WILL be judged and punished, of that I have no doubt. It is a good thing to have righteous anger. It's the same anger Christ had when He toppled the tables of the money-changers in the temple. If that made Him angry, how much more must this make Him angry.

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  3. Brenda9:56 AM

    Leslie: Are there other areas in his life that seem uncharacteristic? A good understanding of the signs of molestation might set your mind at ease. Wanna talk???

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  4. Anonymous10:01 AM

    Brenda,

    I don't think you've ever shared the doctor part, although I know what a miserable cuss Larry was/is. I still remember you telling me he threw his TV off the roof after Jerry Falwell told him to (but then how could he watch Jerry Falwell again? oops.)

    I wish you the best in this journey. Facing our fears is what women do best. I have come to hate doctors with such a passion over the years. Visiting them is always like being victimized. They aren't even human any more.

    I'd say Godspeed, but I have no idea what's out there any more, so I'll just say that I, as your longtime friend, sometimes lost, always found, am always behind you finding physical, emotional and spiritual health, whatever it takes.

    P.S. Personally, I'm exploring Buddhism..

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  5. That was Gloria's husband that threw his TV off the roof because Jerry Falwell told him to. My children's father was married to his TV and we all know the drill: What God hath joined together, let no man put assunder!

    What was really cool that Gloria did when she left her husband (and I wish I'd had the fortitude and sense of humor back then to have done the same) was to leave the book, Living Without Sex, on the kitchen table and walking out with all the little ducklings lined up in a row. In her case, as you know, five!

    Buddhism? My office mate at the college left her Baptist routes to become Buddhist. You paying attention, Donna? Maybe you can lend your take on all this, from the Buddhist perspective of good and evil.

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  6. my thoughts and prayers will go with you Brenda.
    Love, Jon

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  7. May God through his Holy Spirit help you find real healing.
    Les

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  8. Support from male friends is without a doubt a gift like no other. Les is my agent and Jon a high school friend from 1969/1970. It was Jon who taught me how to shift gears. How I loved riding in his white '59 Chevy pick up truck, my best friend Wayne to my right, Jon to my left, me in the middle and in charge of the four in the floor! I can still feel the Arizona heat, the burning wind, the bounce of the truck throwing me first into Jon and then Wayne--and the love my very cool friends in our adventures of growing up.

    The funniest thing I remember from Jon back then was his answer to the youth group question--when is it right to kiss a girl? The group was getting lost in all the theological nonsense of the time when Jon finally piped in with his deadpan face and twinkly eyes: "You kiss a girl when you know she'll kiss back."

    End of story.

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  9. Leslie Drury10:38 AM

    Leslie here again in answer to your question. No, he's doing well. His modesty is a natural progression in his maturity (he isn't my little toddler boy any more). I was just contrasting that modesty, that we all had as little children, with the violation of that modesty by those who only think of their own pleasure. To me that is evil.

    I had horrible experiences with my first husband starting when I was 18 (he was ten years my senior). I was haunted by shame for a long time, and then I realized the shame was his not mine.
    There "are" knights out there. Real men. Men who love and guard their wives and their children. We need to train our daughters to recognize them and not be fooled by the false knights.

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  10. Many walls come crashing down at the sight of old memories long forgotten. I guess I have done my own healing deep within and never wish to revisit, never had and never will. I have learned to grow from my experiences, good or bad. Makes me stronger and harder.

    Love ya woman!

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  11. Hope you have a very successful trip to Phoenix. Also, it should be great weather-wise. Good time of the year to be down there.

    Love and best wishes for a great healing trip!

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  12. Lissa4:34 PM

    Lovely. Well done. I loved Captivating, but you were able to refine what they said into a sound byte.

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  13. Good for you, Brenda. It can't be easy, looking to air out the scary dark corners. I think it will be better tho, no matter what, than not speaking of it- in the right places. It sounds like Phoenix is definitely one of those places.

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  14. Brenda, I feel like incredible things are happening with you. You know, I never finished that book, just read the first few chapters and since I am such a novel addict, I went back to a novel. But I realized that their book was saying some very interesting things and that you might get through it quicker than I would. Now I will have to read it. My friend Chris lent it to me and her daughter gave it to her saying, "Mom, you need to read this as it probably says a lot of things you have never heard before".

    I don`t know if you knew that Jon Eldridge first wrote a book for men called (I think)"Way of the Wild Heart" I have heard it is an excellent book and want to get it for my husband to read.

    I think it says something very good about women that we have often accepted our role that we have been taught as "helpmeet" and tried to do our best. But it is amazing to begin to comprehend that just maybe we are SO MUCH MORE than that. It makes me feel all choked up inside just to think of it and to think of the women friends I love comprehending it too.

    May God keep bringing us all closer to the truth and help us all to learn how to truly forgive.

    Love you,
    Rachel

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  15. I loved your blog and its thoughtfulness (a wilbee signature) and I thank you for it. I applaud your decision to go back to Phoenix and have had another friend do exactly the same thing with very positive results. Blessings, Roy

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  16. Carol S11:02 PM

    Dearest Brenda...
    I believe it was Alexander the great that had a soldier brought before him who had run away during a battle, from the fight. When asked his name, he replied "Alexander, sir".
    Alexander the great told him he needed to either change his name or change his behavior.
    The Bible speaks of allowing the tares to grow up in the fields along with the wheat, 'till harvest time, lest the wheat be pulled up with the tares some enemy had sown in amoungst the wheat... as it was hard to tell the difference prior to ripening...
    A Christian is one who follows Christ. There are many who "pretend" for business or "looks" or various other reasons... some are even fooking themselves. I went to Japan, learned some of the language, changed my money to yen prior to arriving... That did not make me Japanese. I speak enough Spanish to "get along" and/or transelate on trips to Mexico. That doesn't make me Mexican. (It only means I have a heart for both "peoples".)
    The so-called "Christians" that have done you wrong... I KNOW that NOT do that... whether "tares" or just "speakers of the language" or "in it" for some "position" other than being a follower of Christ.... I do not know.
    I DO wish that when you refere to "them", you'd use parentheses ("") when you use "Christian" in the same sentence.
    We are not perfect... a far cry from it. To dis-honor the name of Christ is shameful.
    We (They) need to change our (their) behavior or change our (their) name.
    I respectfully request that when you refere to "Dr."
    M., Larry K., or "churches" that do NOT HONOR God, parenthesis are used. Some one, some where, needs to stand up for what SHOULD be...
    for what the "church" SHOULD be, what the actual church is...
    (Not the "so-called church" or "so called Christians")
    I greive for what has happened in your life amoungst "so-called christian community".
    I long for the REAL Christian community to rise up.
    We are a people in desperate need of truth... of the genuine... of Christ Himself. I have no desire for immitations... no desire for deceipt.... life is hard enough with-out adding more "garbage" and confusion.
    Again, I greive for what has happened in your life (and many others), but don't mistake that for genuine Christianity.
    Sincerely and with love,
    Carol

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