Tuesday, April 19, 2005

How to be dead

Yesterday the Guardian reported the story of Sabine Dardenne. When she was 12, Sabine was kidnapped by a pedophile, chained by her neck to a basement wall, and abused, raped and starved for 80 days.

Sabine is now 21, and in this article, she claims she is totally over it, and it doesn't affect her anymore. "For nine years now, in fact, she has stood firm against pressure from all quarters to look, speak and behave like a victim", the article says. She gets letters "from other rape victims who say that they sympathise, they can understand. It just makes me furious. There is nothing to understand. It happened and that's the end of it."

I can't say exactly what it was, but that article totally rubbed me the wrong way.
Don't get me wrong. It is not that I WANT her to be miserable. I do want her to be over it. I don't think she betrayed any of us other girls by refusing to be miserable. If she has actually, and honestly, managed to cope with this experience that way, I congratulate her, and all power to her. And I do understand her response, because being patronised like that sucks.
I spoke with Nicky about it, and we did agree that everyone has to find their own way of coping, and there is no right universal formula. I wish there was, trust me.

But I guess the thing that really got my goat was this subtle celebration of her strength. And of course, there is nothing wrong with it, and with her wanting to overcome. But what makes me wonder is, is it really strength? What gets me is the the implicit pressure it puts on the rest of us. If a girl who survived such an ordeal can get over it so easily, doesn't that suggest that the rest of us, who don't, *enjoy* being victims??? And especially those of us who went through so much "less"? Hell, my experience was a joke compared to her thing. But should I feel guilty for feeling the way I do about my past, and blame my response to it on my supposedly wanting to be a victim? I mean, what the fuck???
It just sounds so much like that pop psychology, which suggests that any of your responses and feelings are your responsbility, so if you are miserable, it is because you want to be miserable. And that's a fuckin insult.

It's not what she said, but the way it is portrayed. As a celebration of the way she coped with it, when it has repression written all over it. I mean, she should do whatever she thinks is best, and whatever she can handle, but it sounds too much like it shifts the responsibility back on the victims. Like, "it doesn't have to affect you, if it affects you, it's your fault". Am I overreacting? What kid can make a psychological decision like that? I mean, fair enough, she didn't want all that attention after what happened to her, but it's really not about attention-seeking. But it felt awful back then, and still does now, that this guy could do this crap to me and nobody cared to see, nobody gave a flying fuck that it was happening. That's the other end of the spectrum...

Sabine completely detached herself from it. She says she is over it, but what she seems to call the common psychological effects of rape and abuse on children and any response in form of damage is "crying over spilled milk". That is exactly not what it is. A kid doesn't have much cognitive control over its response, and by the time it has, events have taken their effects already, have formed and shaped it. That's exactly why child abuse is so fuckin awful.

I don't claim to know her mind, but frankly... I... I don't believe her. The reason I don't believe her is because I know that reaction. And it makes me even sadder to think how extreme that reaction is, and that it was, for her, the only way to deal with it to prevent it from breaking her.
For me, this article is such a sad example for a typical reaction to child abuse... and probably one of the most long-term damaging.
And if she gets furious over some responses... I mean, not just annoyed, but furious... does that really show she is over it, or that she is just repressing it?

Another reason I don't believe her is because our "time lines" are so similar.
I was 12, too. I did the same thing: rationalised it, minimised it, intellectualised it, detached myself. And I don't blame her in any way for doing what she did, because the subconscious is a pretty independent thing, especially in a child. It's not that you choose to disconnect, it just happens. And I can hella understand why her mind disconnected. Of course, detaching is the only way to go on. But the problem is, after you detach, you are never whole again. It's like swallowing painkillers when you have a toothache. It may take the pain away, at least for some time, but it doesn't solve the problem.
By the time I was her age, I thought I had gotten over it. In fact, the split happened in me pretty much as IT happened. I went through the same empowerment stage, the same ridiculing of the old guy, the same "I won't let my past affect me", and I know that sounds like I was on the right track, and basically I probably had the right attitude, but it didn't work.
And like her, I see now that the person I am now is not the 12-year-old from back then. It's not that I feel I have changed, I just feel like it happened to someone else. And while that may sound pretty good, it's like that 12-year-old and I never got completely disconnected... there is still a wire that connects us but that I just can't sense. I just know that it exists because the kid that lives in my mental sewer system sends me messages through that, in the form of nightmares, in the form of controlling my emotions and even my body, making me dissociate, making me numb, making me freeze up.
Sometimes that detachment isn't empowerment, even if you call it so. But you won't know that until things change.
When whatever you pushed away comes back. And it didn't come back to me until I was in my mid-twenties.

As I said... if she has really dealt with it and it comes never back to haunt her, I am happy for her.

Damn... I really don't know what I am doing here. I am not dissing her. I guess I am trying to justify my feelings towards what happened to me... is it my fault that it affected me?
Believe me, I wish I could stop it. I wish I could stop what it does to me, and I have tried, but I could never make it happen.

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