Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Two Marriages, Two Islands, Two Traumas

I married my first husband when I was 21 years old and left with him two weeks after our wedding for an assignment in the Caribbean.  We set up housekeeping in a multi-colored cement block house, in a small village on the edge of a rain forest.  We had running water but no hot water, electricity, refrigerator or screens on our windows.  Our only mode of transportation was a small Honda 90 motorcycle.

I've written elsewhere about the trauma that I experienced while on this gorgeous island paradise, when my husband introduced me to a young girl and insisted that she become a regular part of our lives.  I didn't know it at the time, but he was grooming her for an eventual molestation.  I didn't learn of the molestation until three years later when he confessed it to me.  I experienced the "relationship" with his young friend as an incredible trauma that I was completely confused by--nothing indicated that he was a predator, my gut was just screaming that this little girl was a threat to my marriage.  She wasn't, but he definitely was; in fact our marriage ended before it really began.  I just didn't know that for over three decades.

I met and married my current husband four years after my world and marriage exploded with my ex-husband's arrest.  During the first year of our marriage, an idyllic time of adjusting to one another and blending our families came to a rather abrupt end during the month of December.  December tends to be a trigger-month for me; my first marriage began and was pronounced dead and I gave birth to my firstborn during the last month of the year.  Our final family gathering also occurred during this month, so it can be a challenging time for me.  For a variety of reasons my current husband and I entered some treacherous waters during our first December together.

We were vacationing on the beautiful island of Hawaii when our individual triggers collided in a frightening and bewildering fashion.  I think it is fair to say that we both were confused, hurt and lost; it seems that even paradise can turn ugly, depending on our perceptions and circumstances.  I ended up leaving my new husband and returning to the mainland early.  Eventually with the help of some gifted therapists and a lot of grit and determination (i.e. hard work), we gained a better understanding of what happened; the whys are still revealing themselves as we continue to grow individually and as a couple.  But the experience was traumatic during a month that has a history of trauma and loss for me.

Recently we revisited some of the "whys" of that island trauma and I found myself fighting hard to
not mix up the names of the two islands.  What I've learned about trauma and loss is that if left unresolved, new losses or traumas bring the old ones along for company.  So it appears that I may have some additional work to do around that first trauma on an island paradise with my ex-husband, especially as we near my "trigger" month of December.  Recovery work, I am learning, is rarely completely done in one season of life; each new growth spurt or deepening relationship can reveal new levels of healing that is necessary.

I am re-reading an excellent work by an incest survivor turned advocate.  Marilyn Van Debur's biography "Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayals and Unconditional Love" chronicles her molestation at the hands of her powerful father and more importantly, her recovery.  It is a stark reminder of the indelible imprint that childhood sexual molestation makes on an individual and the work that is required if recovery is to occur.  As the former wife of a pedophile, it is both a grim refresher of the seriousness of the crimes my ex-husband committed but also of the secondary victimization that occurs for the non-offending family members of the perpetrator.  Everyone in a perpetrator's sphere of influence is impacted by their behavior; no one remains untouched.

Before we move into December with all of its celebrations and potential landmines, we will pause to give thanks.  We give thanks for the good and for the challenging times and remember that forgiveness is a gift that we give ourselves; it opens the door to deeper healing, connection and freedom.  I was mesmerized by this poem that came across my desk today:

"At the year's turn,
in the days between, 
we step away
from what we know
into the spaces 
we cannot name.
Slowly the edges
begin to yield,
the hard places
the gate to forgiveness
and gratitude
-- unknown

And another by a favorite artist/poet:

"she closed her eyes
and thought of her year.
it couldn't just be
the good she was
thankful for
it had to be the all...
the fullness, the depths,
the journey.
the dance of life.
for these she gave thanks."

May we all move into those spaces we cannot name--traumas, memories, losses and betrayal--and as we do the work of recovery, watch them soften and give thanks for the gifts we find in our woundings--the depth fullness and journey.  Have a wonderful week of feasting, giving thanks and dancing to the music of life! 

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