The Comfort in Community

Over at The Wild Hunt, Jason Pitzl-Waters has just posted his coverage of new revelations regarding Marion Zimmer Bradley and child sexual abuse.

When the story broke this spring of Kenny Klein’s arrest for child pornography, I felt a powerful need to speak to that story, and to share what I could of the professional expertise I’d gained as a therapist working with survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  I was grateful that Jason gave me a platform for sharing that work, and that so many people read it and understood it.

I’m not writing from that perspective today.  Today, I’m granting myself the luxury of responding just as myself, for myself, as the human being who carries the memories of doing the work that I did ten years ago.

What follows… is about me.  This is what I feel today.

I feel sad.  Of course I do.

I’m saddened, not so much because of the place Bradley has had in so many Pagan hearts as because it is simply one more story of human trauma and pain.  This news story reflects decades of suffering on the parts of many people–and even one would have been too many.  But to me, in all honesty, that sadness is old news; I’ve spent my entire adult life hearing stories like this one.

Photo credit: Paleopod

The sadness is old, but it’s not the only thing I’m feeling.  Reading this story today, I’m aware of something new: a quiet current of hope is flowing within me.

In his coverage Jason mentions how hard the story was to write, because of triggers of his own.  And maybe it’s heartless, but I’m relieved not to be the only person holding some hard emotions around the epidemic of sexual abuse and assault going on around us every day.  This, to me, is good news: one thing I am learning this year, as the Pagan world staggers under revelations of sexual abuse in our midst, is how many of us have histories as survivors or as friends and community to survivors.  For me, this is the new story, the groundbreaking story.  I’m not alone with my knowledge and my grief.  And for me, this is huge.

It’s impossible for me to convey the loneliness and alienation I once felt as a Pagan therapist working with survivors of sexual abuse during the 80s and 90s.  (I’m sure the loneliness of survivors was even deeper, but today, remember, I’m being selfish.  Today, I’m speaking to my memories.)

When I wrote my earlier piece at The Wild Hunt, it took me back in time.  I have not been a full-time psychotherapist for ten years now, and the last of my part-time clients has been gone for two.  But the intensity of emotion that writing that piece–that dispassionate, rational piece–evoked in me was a revelation.  Writing that essay, I shivered with something other than cold.  I had bad dreams.  I felt all those old feelings again…and it was not the pain of empathy for survivors that I was struggling with, it was the pain of being alone with it in the midst of my own people.

There are a lot of reasons I am no longer in practice as a psychotherapist. But while it was not the cause, the fact that the Pagan community was coldly critical of my field wasn’t very helpful, either.

My Pagan friends were right to be offended by the Satanic Ritual Abuse disinformation campaign.  But too many of them couldn’t distinguish between distortions coming from the religious Right and the good work being done in the field.  I heard allegations that most memories of abuse were false or “implanted” by therapists.

As the propaganda machine of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation spun into high gear, I remember being asked by friends who loved me, “What percentage of your clients do you think are making it up?” Meanwhile, during that same time period, clinic supervisors who were caught up in the SRA spin viewing me with deep suspicion for my own Wiccan, Pagan practice.  (I had already outed myself at work when clinicians at our mental health center briefly contemplated hospitalizing one client, against her therapist’s wishes, because her journal included Pagan religious language.)

I remember spending hours upon hours on listserves, hands shaking as I typed, citing sources and documenting the research that supported both a high incidence of childhood abuse and the reliability of memories of trauma.  These were research questions for most of my friends, but they were names and faces to me.

And I remember offering a workshop on sexual abuse and sexual assault in the Pagan community… and only two people came.

For years, I felt so alone with the stories I held.  For years, I felt besieged on all sides–just for doing my work.  Just for listening to people talk about what they had gone through. And for years, it felt like it would never change.

And now?  Now, Elizabeth Loftus, the researcher whose work provided the underpinnings for the False Memory Syndrome Foundation has finally come under ethical scrutiny for misrepresenting her research.  The psychotherapeutic community (if not the popular press) has been increasingly clear and articulate in documenting the nature of traumatic memories. Now it is widely accepted that the sexual abuse of children has been an epidemic within the Catholic church–and even evangelical Protestants are beginning to understand that they, too, are vulnerable to perpetrators in the pulpit.

And closer to home? While SRA propaganda has been rightly debunked, I look up, in the year 2014, and I find Pagans openly discussing not just the fact that abuse occurs, but that perpetrators can be high profile and even admired members of their communities–including our  community.

Yeah, there’s pain in these revelations.  And I wouldn’t pretend to speak for survivors of their own abuse.  But for me…  There is a measure of relief.

If we can look clear-eyed at the truths before us, maybe we can change some things.  Maybe we can make our rhetoric about honoring sexuality  into an actual practice, a practice of such integrity that someday, we’ll have reduced the rates of abuse among us.  Less suffering… that would be good.

Not to mention that, on a purely selfish level, it’s nice not to feel so damned alone with the knowledge that this happens, and that the pain of sexual assault and sexual abuse is very real.

Thank you for your coverage, Jason.  Thanks for being willing to go there, yet again.

And thank you to everyone who is willing to listen, to hear, and to hold the simple fact of childhood sexual abuse in our communal heart.

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