Dee's Blog
Fri 03/07/2008
The Hippo
Topic: Making Decisions

One of my long-term male survivor friends (pseudonym Bob) is a chaplain who happens to also be a musician and a poet.  While we have even stronger connections than those, I cannot say more without breaking his need to maintain a great deal of confidentiality.  Bob is one of the strongest guys, with one of the most tender hearts I know.  Maybe he sees the latter in himself.  I'm doubtful on the first.   I can unload on Bob anytime I feel the need, and his work has ministered to more people than he probably will ever know.  Perhaps more to me than to anyone.

Years ago, not long after he'd revealed his own childhood sexual abuse to some co-workers and family members,  he handed me a copy of a long poem without a title, Let's just call it "The Hippo."  It so eloquently described the fear and courage that it takes to confront what many call "the elephant" --the primal emotions some of us encountered years ago.  While some of you reading this may have just started on the journey of attempting "wake the dead" while keeping your own sanity about abuse, collusion, or a myriad of other issues that trouble you.

"Use this or anything else that I write if you think it will be helpful to others," Bob frequently tells me, true to his generous self.  So here you are:

There’s a hippo in the corner of my room.

Strange, I hadn’t seen it there before.

But once I had bumped into it, I swear

I find it quite impossible to ignore.

I’ve noticed others manage to avoid it,

But now aware,

It’s like a magnet to my mind;

I’ve a penchant just to stare.

How strange, but now I know it,

It’s enormity is clear;

And I can’t deny the mess it’s made

Or how long it has been there.

There’s a hippo that is growing in my room.

But, when I try to speak of it I find

That everyone just stares at me so funny

And treats me as if I had lost my mind….

And though maintaining some concern about my mental health,

My family and friends conspire to save me from myself.

How dare I be so selfish, so inconsiderate, as to bring it up.

Hippos are so inconvenient.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Fri 03/07/2008 7:58 AM CST
Thu 03/06/2008
Thoughts on Gender Issues
Topic: Making Decisions

While the majority of my readers are female, I probably learn as much from the limited number of male survivors and advocates who come my way as I do from the majority.  This is not a reflection on any supposition that these guys are smarter than my own gender.  Please do not misunderstand me there. 

It has everything to do with the differences I see in the responses to abuse that I see between the two genders.  Those responses are not entirely gender specific, just like a lot of other issues.  At this moment, I'm not inclined to write in depth on this topic, though I may assign it to myself at a later date.

Long ago, I would have assumed that it is so much easier for male survivors to speak because society makes it easier for men to be heard on most issues.   I really thought they had an advantage.  I no longer believe that.

To admit to sexual or domestic abuse or to talk about the betrayal one has experienced as a spouse, father, or even as a professional advocate is to risk being emasculated by one's own gender.  For to be the underdog is considered by the traditional male, who has internalized the myths of tradition, to be a loser.  Or it's equivalent (ie. a woman). 

By staying "safe," men are able to preserve the personal advantage of having a place of privilege.  Every time they speak out, it seems there is a double battle to be fought.  In the same way that gay men have experienced.  One must overcome the inertia created by blowing the minds of people who don't want their minds blown.  So the struggles are even more likely to be turned inward. 

Even if one HAS confronted the myth and integrated it well into his psyche, the risk is still there.  Male survivors sometimes are able to overcome a good deal of this fear of being emasculated.  I don't think it ever goes away entirely.

No matter what precipitates their speaking, men who speak up on issues that so many prefer to see as "women's issues," no matter how personal those issues may be, are going to experience the attitude:  "Whose side are you on, anyway?"

After all, Muslim men may be the only group that voices it so clearly, but I'm convinced that Christian men are just as likely to say to themselves and one another:  "Thank God I wasn't born a woman!"

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 8:12 AM CST
Wed 03/05/2008
Choosing How to Feel
Topic: coping

In 1988, I was working on an adolescent unit where I'd managed to create several types of therapeutic group activities at the close of the day.  One evening, I had the kids laying on mats and listening to music.

That year one of the most popular songs encouraged people to "Come on, get happy."  That may have been the title, and maybe you recall the very cheerful sounding tune.

A couple of the kids got furious with me for playing that song.  They said it was impossible to just get happy.  Of course, with clinical depression it's not an instantaneous experience.   I'm not sure, though, that these kids were necessarily deeply depressed.  They certainly "got happy" easily about a lot of things on the unit (sometimes at the expense of staff and others) but furious about anytime they didn't have the world revolving around their idealistic or childlike preferences. 

The truth is that we can, to an extent, choose how we feel. 

On Sunday, at church, I met a young man who probably had a very challenging childhood.  My guess is that he has muscular dystrophy, though without the speech involvement we often see.  He was on crutches and sat on the front row.  When I commented that he probably was happier to see the snow and ice melted than most of us, with all he had to contend with, he said he wasn't sure if this was true.  "It is nice not to have to find ways around all of the little hills of white stuff," he said.  "But, as I see it--hey, these are just more of the gifts God sends our way."

While the church I often attend isn't one where an "Amen" shouted in the service is very common, spontaneity is VERY welcome and surprises always abound from the pulpit and just in the lives of some of the members who choose to live out Christianity in ways that are considered "outside the OK box" for the average Christian.

So when the pastor said that her paraplegic mother gets bent out of shape when anyone suggests she is disabled, I saw this man nod.   "She says that she is 'other-abled', " the pastor added.  And that's the point where the young man literally shouted "Amen!" 

What a reminder that our feelings do not have to depend upon the circumstances we have encountered or the cards we've been dealt!


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Tue 03/04/2008
Topic: coping

Feelings are so important.  They become a problem when we either minimize or start to awfulize them. 

In the early days of psychotherapy, the emphasis seemed to be on acknowledging feelings.  That's important for sure.  These days, the need to obtain a balance has been recognized. 

What if you make today a day to stop awfulizing, just for 24 hours.   To stop and be amazed at the problems you have NOT had to face.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Mon 03/03/2008 1:10 PM CST
Mon 03/03/2008
Where's the Action?
Topic: Making Changes

People are always telling me that I don't understand their feelings.  I'm sure I don't, sometimes.  Not nearly as often as they tell me this, though.

My personality profile is strong in the thinking arena.  I have little tolerance for nonsense.  If something doesn't make sense by textbook proof, I don't have any use for it.  Just give me the facts, please--well, at least first.  Too much like a professor, I'll admit, though it would be nice to have the degrees to go with it. 

That doesn't mean I'm always rational.  Certainly I need to be challenged when I'm not, much more often than I get it.

My downfall, however, is that I may not be as empathetic in my hurry to get myself and others to the facts, where I'm comfortable. 

Recently, I realized that it's really not at all that I do not understand most people's feelings about a lot of things.  Actually, one of my strongest assets in nursing, according to my professors, was that I understood feelings and got people quickly to a practical approach in addressing the problems.

So, I beg to come to my defense.  It's the action or inaction that comes because of the feelings (in other words the resultant behavior) that often has me baffled.  Especially by people who have trouble getting back to the facts.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Mon 03/10/2008 9:08 AM CDT
Sun 03/02/2008
Father's Voice Needed, TOO!
Topic: Making Changes

With collusion in the family--and often in the church--it's the male voice that is so often missing.  Even the "fighters" tend to run in flight, with either gender.  Yet I've noticed it's the men more than the women.

We need the voices of both genders.  Especially the fathers.  It's always great to hear from fathers or spouses who have had the courage to stand up. 

I thought you might be interested in a rather exceptional story.



Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Fri 02/29/2008
Listening for Our Fathers
Topic: coping

Not sure how the father voice fits into the picture, but I'm convinced that for many it's the stronger voice.  At least equally as strong.  I think his voice often gets minimized in the mental health arena.  

Perhaps thanks to Freud, all of our failures are heaped onto our mother's failures.  Thanks to our society, the tendency has been to heap all of our successes onto our father.  I'm not the first to see that as a very unhealthy split, and splitting isn't a good sign in people or in professions or institutions.

Look at how it works with abuse.  We recognize the physical and sexual abuse as a problem that is more likely to be perpetrated by fathers.  Yet what about the voice of the perpetrator--our focus seems to be more on the acts, rather than the words or attitudes. 

Our fathers have just as much potential to influence us in positive ways, depending upon how much they were in our lives.  Just as much as our mothers.  And just as likely to be negative forces, as well. 

Try listening to how often the voices of both parents play in your head.  Compare the volume now with long ago.  Keep what's good.  Nurture it.   And join me in throwing out the garbage.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Thu 02/28/2008
Hearing in Stereo
Topic: coping

Never saw it in print, but I have a theory about the source of a great deal of anxiety. I believe it's often caused because we are hearing two voice--the two that were often in conflict in our childhood or youth.  We hear our mother's voice, perhaps louder for most people than our father's.  Yet his also rings in our ears, quietly, throughout our lives.

If either parent wasn't around for some reason, there's usually at least one other voice that is strong.   Not necessarily a voice of strength for us, but a voice that dominates so much of our thinking and behavior.  No doubt much more often than we recognize.

There are other voices that may even over-ride those those of our parents.  As we mature.  Voices of grandparents or other family members, teachers or church leaders, or the voices of peers.  The voices of spouses loom huge for most of us, as well. 

Those voices do not have to be positive.  Hopefully more are positive than negative, though. 

Finding our own voice and making it say the positive things or to speak words of truth and reality--that's what helps healthy people mature beautifully. 

Yet we have to be very careful that we are checking out our voice at times with wise people who can provide some guidance.  That's something we all need--sort of like having parents that we learn to choose wisely as we mature.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Mon 02/25/2008 7:49 AM CST
Wed 02/27/2008

Topic: Power

 In 1999, following a PBS documentary on Mormonism entitled "American Prophet," Richard Leiby of the Washington Post wrote his reaction.   It's well worth reading

Most interesting to me is that eight years after the creation of this new religion, Missouri's governor signed an order allowing the militia to exterminate or expel Mormons "for the public good."

I do not believe it was "of God" or even within the grey area of ethics that seventeen of Smith's followers were gunned down.  

Yet I love Leiby's assessment:  "But he (Joseph Smith) had God--and good looks--on his side."  I'd venture to say that he still does.  Despite the many wonderful things being taught by its missionaries, what is called simply polygamy is one that is difficult to explain away even though my own experience with some fine Mormon people is that they would be horrified to be associated with the practice of polygamy.

Just as many people in more traditional Christian faiths are horrified to admit that they and their church leaders may have colluded with clergy sexual abuse and misconduct.  It's unthinkable.  Yet very much alive this very day--my inbox evidences it frequently!

The general that Leiby refers to, who was apparently called on to arrest Smith was an eye witness to this man's foolishness:  "I carried him into my house, a prisoner in chains, and in less than two hours my wife loved him better than she did me."

That's power beyond imagination!  To the average citizen, anyway.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Wed 02/27/2008 7:33 AM CST
Tue 02/26/2008
The Victims of Joseph Smith
Topic: Power

The primary victims of Joseph Smith were his wives.  Including his first wife. This is a point that might be argued among those of us who have written on clergy sexual misconduct, but that's how I see it.  As opposed to the stories of today, Joseph Smith forced his wife to accept that "celestial marriage" was of God, even though it was illegal, and she was called to stay with him.  Historians tell us she was first deceived and later devastated at her fate.  She really did not have the choices, though difficult, that wives of perpetrators have today.  She had married him without a vow of "in monogamy or polygamy."  As with all clergy perpetrators, Smith broke sacred vows to his wife when he accepted what he saw as other sacred vows from God.  Not unlike many of the delusions that are fed by clergy perpetrators to their victims today.

Among the many secondary victims were the men and women he persuaded to follow him into polygamy.  Yes, some of his victims became perpetrators, as well.  The most famous being Brigham Young. 

Not that Smith assaulted or molested Young.  He did not.  Young was such a devoted follower, however, that he felt he could not refuse Smith's direction.   Young's pleas, which he recorded in a letter to Smith, ring from the grave as heart-wrenching:  "No, I cannot. Ask me to do anything. Ask me to sacrifice my wealth, my fortune. Ask me to be away from my family. But don't ask me to do this." 

Finally, he was worn down to the point of accepting what he knew in his heart and soul was wrong.  So, in a way, I see him as a victim.  In another, I see him as a perpetrator of sexual misconduct, though it is framed as a religious practice and called polygamy. 

Listen to Young's acceptance:  "I will accept this principle. And it's the first time in my life that I desire the grave. I wish I were dead rather than have to do this."  Some would say he had a choice.  I believe this question would be up for debate among authorities on religious power.  I myself cannot come to a clear-cut answer. 

I know for certain, though, that he had more than 50 victims.  People may argue that the women had a choice.  I don't think so.  Young, like Smith, held far too much power for a woman to refuse him in that community!  She would have been scorned and treated like an infidel for refusing a prophet!

Both men--unlike Abraham, yet like so many others who were carrying out the command to engage in "celestial marriage"--were quite secretive about this "God-sanctioned" practice of polygamy.  Of course, readers of this blog are likely to immediately recognize that secrecy is a hallmark of any abuse--why does one need to hide what is right and good?

Even today, this perpetrator continues to have an immense following.  Unlike Abraham, who was following his culture and living within the confines of the law when he participated in polygamy, this man broke the law.  This prophet had so much charisma that the town of Nauvoo, Illinois was rivalling Chicago in population, just a few years after the "faith" was born!

Polygamy may have been the straw that broke the camel's back, but it was more than a straw.  It was sanctioned by the charismatic prophet, a man that I believe (as many scholars do) had delusions of grandeur.  The power that was already his, I dare say because the people had given it to him, didn't just threaten the city of Chicago.  It allowed Smith to create a following that continues provide inspiration, intrigue, and scorn for a religion that was actually born during the period of time when fundamentalism, a form of twisted Christianity that still permeates a large portion of our society, sprung up rampantly. 

Not that the persecution and violence was an appropriate and moral outcome, however.  That's where the story turns more tragic.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Mon 02/25/2008 8:56 AM CST

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