Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Abuse and Shame

A cycle of Abuse and Shame - This Election pulled the scab off our wound

When I was very young, maybe 4, maybe 5, I found myself trapped in a dark cloud.  What actually happened is a difficult memory to retrieve, but it has returned to me over the years.  I was in a room with a few adults.  It was after Sunday School, I think.  I heard their words.  About disgust.  About my parents.  About my parents marriage.  You see, it was 1970 and I was a mixed race immigrant child in a mid-sized Wisconsin town, full of people with limited world experience.  And I was surrounded by a dark cloud that I thought might swallow me whole.

I didn’t understand, and I never spoke of it.  I soon forgot the circumstances that shadowed the next four decades of my life.  Circumstances that led to drinking, rebellion, self abuse and ultimately led me to a very damaged and sadistic violent man and two years trapped in an abusive relationship that I didn’t have the courage to escape until I had buried a baby.  The dark cloud did not go away, it has always been there.  That is how the wounded live.  That is how many of us live.  How many people were shamed as a child in this culture of denial and blame?  How many are struggling with their own unnamed demons at night and masking the shame in the daylight?  If we all walked around with our wounds open we would be attacked by the wolves, so we hide them, scabbing them over by day and picking them back open by night.  

Can I say those few words by a couple of ignorant adults are to blame?  It’s not even my intention to point fingers. I don’t even remember their faces.  I think our singular stories become a collection of stories that heal the wound.  There’s a wound on all of us, a shame that goes deeper than the last few elections and further back than our “founding fathers”.  Further back than 1492.  When I look around lately, all I see are open wounds.  Many scabs have been ripped off this week.  What oozes out from the open wounds is the truth - we are not those white male landowners that signed a piece of paper, we are not the heads of state, we are not the British, Europe, China, Africa, or India.  We need to own who we are and take responsibility.  We are the most diverse and complex group of humans from all over the world living on a beautiful vast land that we are destroying every day.  We are a great big self-abusive nation.

The most monumental abuse in this country has been against the very people who inhabited the land before 1492.  It was followed by the unthinkable abuse of the slaves.  There has been abuse of the working class.  There has been abuse of every immigrant group.  These are collective abuse stories that we all have to hear with open ears, no longer suppressing nor editing.  Each of us has the right only to tell our own story.  If we listen we can heal.

My father left his country not long after a bloody rebellion and partition. The end of British rule in India, like every other colonial withdrawal, led to unthinkable bloodshed.  Throughout his life he had nightmares.  He told me his story - sneaking out at night as a child and witnessing the rape and beheading of women from his town.  That was our legacy, another divided country.  My immigrant mixed race family arrived here in the midst of it’s own cultural revolution, the sixties, but my father believed in the American Dream. We became our own island, in many ways, as immigrant families and immigrant groups often do.  Assimilation is a myth, everyone that enters the country changes it as they are changed. It is a slow process.  But the change has frightened many, especially when there is little understanding of the roles we play in this this top heavy class system.   Now I must work for the future, for my Black-Indian-Caucasian-Native American daughter and grandson in the midst of this new division - the collective waking up from the dream.  History repeats itself until we all learn together, and we only learn by listening.  This is the lesson I have to face after breaking through my own dark cloud.

We’re waking up and we’re finding blood all around us.  So many scabs removed.  I believe it is time to keep our eyes and ears open, to refrain from binding the wounds so the comfortable can go back to feeling comfortable. Who really has been all that comfortable?  Being told to pretend everything is ok is a form of neglect.  Being told we should have done better is a form of abuse.  Maybe a calm acceptance in a time of unrest could lead to something that is neither shame nor abuse.  We can be calm and listen to the others and acknowledging that they are the owners of their stories.  If we let it happen, perhaps we can heal.


  1. Very powerful stuff Dawn, thanks for sharing!
    And I love the paintings!

  2. Absolutely with you Dawn. Thank you. Love you.


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