A friend shared a long public facebook status from somebody else this morning, and the status puzzled me, and then it made me sad.
It was one of those messages people write for any person who sees it and who happens to be contemplating suicide. It began “if you commit suicide today,” and it led the reader through a series of speculations on what the people around you would do. “The person you love most will find your body. She’ll call 911, her hands shaking… your mother’s knees will hit the floor… your friends will write “RIP” on your facebook page before all your relatives find out… “ That kind of thing. It described the trauma of a normal family and community’s reaction to suicide. And not everybody belongs to a normal community or family.
I’m not saying that person wrote anything wrong. It was a haunting and well-written statement, and I hope the right person sees it and reconsiders. But it made me sad, because it felt like it was addressed to a completely different kind of person, with a completely different kind of life than the one I’ve led and so many of my friends have led. I don’t think the people I’ve known would respond according to this writer’s script. I think that, if I did happen to kill myself today (which I’m not planning to do, for the record), the responses would be different. If so many of my friends I’ve met through speaking publicly about spiritual abuse did, the response wouldn’t be like that– not from their families and communities.
It’s yet another reminder that people who have been through abuse of one sort or another, have a completely different outlook on their lives and their relationships with other people. It’s yet another reminder that being this kind of person, a person who is traumatized from abuse by people they ought to have been able to trust, is an experience that a lot of people simply can’t relate to. And that can make us feel even more alone– even though we’re not, even though there are many like us all over the world.
I wonder what it would look like, if that letter was written by a survivor to other survivors, and if that would be helpful.
Maybe it would go something like this:
If you kill yourself today, you will be dead. I have some religious beliefs about what happens to you after that, and maybe you don’t share them. But we both agree, you won’t be alive anymore. The people who did this to you will be alive. And after that, the narrative belongs to them.
I don’t know who will find your body. I don’t know whether their hands will shake or whether they’ll call 911. But you won’t be there to tell them why you did this or to help them understand. Even if you left a note, that won’t really help. The people who made you feel this way will be alive to comment on anything you wrote, and you won’t.
Your relative who abused you will find out, and she’ll get That Look on her face, the one that annoys you the most, the one that never failed to make you melt down. The satisfied one. The one that says she now has confirmation that you were crazy all along, just as she suspected. She will cry crocodile tears to the ladies in her prayer group and the folks at the parish, and the whole community will come together to hug her and pray over her and make her the center of attention just like she always wanted.
The enablers of your abuser will do other things. The relatives who took your primary abuser’s actions as license to abuse you too, will continue to feel that they just had harmless fun doing what everybody does in a family– because this is the family they know. They can’t see out of that. That’s the hell they carry within them. The ones who only played along because they felt helpless, who even admitted to you in private that what she did was wrong but didn’t have the backbone to help, will feel helpless and even guilty, but they won’t change. They don’t think they’re capable of change or they’d never have acted like that. The ones who just wouldn’t believe that what you said was true, will feel that they have confirmation that they were right and you were nuts all along. They’ll go to their graves thinking that. Your family is calcified in their sin, and they will remain calcified.
The priest or the minister or the rabbi, the religious or catechist or youth leader, the one who abused you, will get off scot-free, because now you’ve destroyed the evidence. Your memories, the very things that are torturing you right now, were your weapon against him and you’ll have killed them and you. People will go on thinking that person is holy and innocent, and there’s a chance they’ll abuse somebody else. The structure of bureaucracy that allowed them to get away with it will go on unchanged, because why should they change? The person they hurt is dead and can’t make a fuss anymore.The people who told you that it was your responsibility to buck up, forget what happened and “not be a victim anymore,” will think this is your fault too, for not being able to do what is absolutely impossible and should never have been asked of you. They’ll be satisfied with themselves and spread that bad advice to someone else. Someone else will be more likely be hurt by them.
The people who don’t understand that abusers seek out abuse survivors as easy targets and can spot one a mile away, will go on not understanding that. They’ll continue to tell survivors of multiple abusers that they must be lying because nobody’s luck could possibly be this bad. The word “attention-seeking” will be used and you won’t be there to tell them they’re full of crap, that that’s not what’s going on, that you were only trying to end your agony. They’ll go on thinking that that’s exactly what happened.
That’s another terrible thing about being the victim of abuse: your abuser didn’t just abuse you. They abused your community, in a different way. They groomed your community to see you as a liar. They turned your community into an abusive one. And then they planted a sneaky self-destruct mechanism in you, to destroy the evidence and cover their tracks. And now your community is persecuting you when they should have turned against your abuser, and you want to die.
But if you die, they win.
It seems as though they’ve already won, but if you die, they certainly win.
If you live, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I wish I did. I wish I could say that this will all come out in the wash, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. We who have been abused– spiritually, emotionally, sexually, physically, however– we don’t have an easy life. To exist as a victim of abuse is exhausting, confusing and torturous. One minute we were living in the same world most people do, and the next minute we got sucked through the looking glass to a dangerous place where people don’t act the way people ought. It takes so much audacity and courage to survive after that, more than most people can imagine having. But we do have weapons we can use to fight for ourselves and for each other. Our weapons are our story, our testimony, our stubborn existence as humans in the face of everything that tried to dehumanize us.
You are human, you know. Even though they made you feel like you weren’t. And you’re not just fighting for yourself. It would be enough if you were, because you are worthy of life and of safety and of being the one who gets to tell your narrative. But you’re also fighting for us: for everyone who got sucked through the Looking Glass like you did and can’t find their way out. You’re fighting for everyone who will be hurt, if your abusers are the ones who get to tell your story.
If you live, your abusers might not win in the end.
So I’m asking you, as one survivor to another, to choose to live, if for no other reason than to thwart the people who did this to you. You don’t have to choose to live for a magnanimous reason. Just for today, defying your abuser is enough.
They don’t deserve another victory.
We don’t deserve another loss.
I think it would look something like that.
And I hope it would reach someone who needs to know.
(image via Pixabay)