by Kevin Barhydt, guest blogger
I am honored to host Kevin Barhydt, as the first guest writer for this blog. You can learn more about Kevin, and his book, Dear Stephen Michael's Mother at the end of this post.
"I know we can't slow down
We can't hold back, though you know, we wish we could
Oh no, there ain't no rest for the wicked
Until we close our eyes for good"
- Ain't No Rest for the Wicked
by Cage The Elephant
For an adoptee like me seeking a place in this world to call my own, I never rest, can't slow down, won't ever hold back for one minute. I must be resilient, and that resilience is a hard won attribute, kept alive only through a daily fight to the finish, and a lifetime struggle seemingly beyond my own natural born endurance.
As a survivor of child sexual abuse at the tender age of nine I'm less likely to view resiliency as a benefitial strength, but more as a burden that allows me to carry those deviate memories and yet rise anew each day.
My hope as a recovering addict and alcoholic is to recapture and restore the healthy qualities of my infancy, before my God given instinctual resiliency was deformed into a mechanism designed to allow me to barely function as a human so as to continue the daily chore of ingesting substances in the slow act of chemical suicide.
As I openly articulate here for you my struggles, burdens, hopes and fears, I also need you to know that I do so through a grief and sadness that has never fully broken me and yet never fully leaves me. You see, I already wrote this piece once, and sent it off cheerfully, only to find a response in my inbox from Lise "I think you are at a good first round with this piece. May I make some requests/suggestions for it, as I think it could be even better…"
That simple reflection, written in kindness and generosity, would have nearly broken me in two. Even after thirty-five years of sobriety, I'm still not better. After the monumental healing as a survivor of child sexual abuse, I'm still not whole. As an adoptee with an entire world full of love and family and friends, I'm still unwanted. Even with all the tenderness and goodness and kindness that I have learned to direct from and towards myself, it simply isn't enough. Or, maybe, just maybe...
"I have been loved, Edward told the stars.
So?, said the stars. What difference does that make when you are all alone now?"
In Kate DiCamillo's timeless story, "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane," I feel a kinship of loss and grief, as well as of hope, reunion and redemption. As an adoptee, survivor of child sexual abuse, and a recovering addict and alcoholic, I also find in this story a parable of the power of community.
Resiliency for me as an adoptee is a matter of life or death. The story of my worth in the world began with the truths I was told. That my mother loved me so much that she gave me away, and that my adoptive parents had so much love to give that they took me as their own. If the person who created me loved me so much she relinquished me, it was simple to surmise it was only a matter of time before my adoptive parents would do the same. My worth was transactional.
Child sexual abuse survivors find a similar value system placed on their bodies. We are groomed and told we are special, only to be led into a darkness beyond the comprehension of most non-survivors. We are a piece of meat, lost to our own sense of self, and left to find solace and value in a place where there is only an absence of worth.
Addiction first becomes an oasis, then refuge, and finally the one place where the darkness on the outside equals our darkness within.
I wasn't meant to be this way. I was designed to be secure in who and what I am, strong and confident. I was made to be resilient. I was created with the capacity for bonding with others, but entered the world an unwilling orphan with a primal wound, torn away from my biological origins. As a child I had a tremendous capacity for empathy and joy, and an inner sense of self worth, only to have the act of a pedophile destroy my innocence under the guise of an adult's kindness and secrets. My adoptive family were sound of mind and body, but my genetic ancestry contained a multitude of addiction and mental health illnesses.
As all of the aspects of Personal Resilience were torn from my hands, the loss of control over my environment mutated my relationships and natural creative instincts into self-centered self loathing, and an understanding that my own existence was both helpless and hopeless. Then, when I least expected, a shift happened. For me, it was two words: maybe, and might. A friend said "maybe you need help" and another said "you just might be an addict and alcoholic."
Many had tried to help before. Every priest, parent, social worker, police officer, even the US Navy had told me that I needed help. This was different. Maybe. Might. This was optional. In the depths of despair I saw a flickering hope. Still in the grip of suicidal thoughts, I reached out for help, one baby step at a time. Then, slowly, time passed and my community of support grew. My 12-step friends, and sponsor. My therapist and doctors. Teachers and students, professors and authors, actors and poets. Finally, my family. My wife, mother, father, daughters and sons.
The time was necessary. My neurological healing could not be rushed. My mental health and intellectual acuity improved greatly, sometimes at such a rapid pace that I found myself racing to keep up emotionally. With healing in progress the restoration of resilience became possible. All the time in the world would not have been enough to restore my innate resiliency without the ever expanding foundation of a community to support me. By accepting the help of others I became more capable of healing and strengthening all that had been broken. When I accepted my circumstances, past and present, I found that powerlessness could be transformed to hopefulness. Through my dependency on community I developed an inner state of personal autonomy, and a genuine sense of purpose.
With those in my life who understand the tears of my past, as well as the mending that will always be my present, perhaps my resiliency will grow. Maybe I'll know the new prospects of a life manifest through love, compassion and courage. Then, perhaps I might enjoy the possibility that my friend Lise Deguire holds out as her own hope, for her and our community.
"Maybe now I can rest."