Saturday, April 24, 2010

Courage and Capitulation

I suppose on some level I started this blog in order to make it possible, perhaps inevitable, for me to write the last two posts. My experience of priest sexual abuse is a demon that has haunted me my entire adult life. Until my heart surgery a year and a half ago, I was able, more or less, to keep it at bay, though it was always moving as motivation just beneath my conscious behavior like a river rumbling in a cavern.

Some people have commented that my surfacing the truth has been an act of courage on my part. I do not see it that way. It has been an act of capitulation. My heart surgery weakened me, physically, mentally, and spiritually, to the point where I could no longer restrain the truth of the molestation. That, I think now, is why I dreaded the surgery so much -- not for what it would do to me, but for what it might reveal about me. I felt instinctively that it would be impossible to undergo such a procedure and emerge from it the same person as I had been before. I was right. I viewed the coming surgery as a form of rape, as I wrote at the time. And to me it was a second rape, because it stripped me of the defenses, no matter how rigid or tenuous, which I had built up against the truth.

And so I have capitulated, finally, before the power of the past. I had always counted myself a strong person; now I know where that strength came from and why it was necessary. It was not a noble strength but a desperate one. I have always regarded courage as one of the highest virtues and demanded it of myself and others. But it was not courage I was evincing; it was a reflexive effort of denial and self-preservation.

You cannot call a person courageous when he fails to recognize danger - only when he confronts and overcomes it. The soldier who is too drunk or stupid to understand the peril he faces is not a hero; he is a self-deluding tool of circumstance. Courage is grounded in reality - a sober assessment of circumstance - and expresses itself as a conscious choice not to be intimidated by it. I never made such a conscious choice, indeed, all my choices in so far as the memory of the molestation was concerned, were unconscious, or semi-conscious at best. They were not acts of courage any more than finally surfacing the memory now is one. They were acts of capitulation.

In the months following the surgery I insisted to people that I wished I had not had it done; that I wished I could go back and undo it. I was quite sure in my mind that I meant this. For even then I could feel the beams and braces of my dam of denial coming apart. I remember telling a doctor acquaintance of mine that, if I had it to do over again, I would not do it. He then explained to me clinically and in some detail what it is like to die from congestive heart failure, concluding that it is not "a pleasant way to go." Even as I listened, I felt deeply that I would still have preferred to die. "At least the death would be mine," I told him. Because the alternative, which was muscling itself upon me even as I said it, was worse: an admission that the molestation also was mine, a part of me, a truth of my life. So, as I have said earlier, the survivor prefers death to life.

I suppose that if I had never had the surgery I might have continued to find the psychic resources to resist the truth. I might have lived out the rest of my life on the same terms on which I have lived it heretofore. I see now that that might have represented some form of peace. For not knowing the truth, or not allowing yourself to admit the truth, is a form of peace - the peace of the anesthetist. I might have continued to endure with the numbing mask of denial on my face, just as I endured the surgery with the anesthetist's mask. Yet... I suppose it is always necessary to reawaken at some point. But to what reality? To what self-knowledge? To what truth?

Perhaps that is a valid way of looking at the relationship between daily life and truth: Life is a kind of sleep, and truth is an awakening. Truth tears us from the solace of conscious sleep and thrusts us into a reality beyond quotidian reality. Truth puts an end to the daily dreaming of life, and demands that we face, consciously and with courage, that which ultimately is real.

I suppose the choice for me now, as for all survivors, is to decide that while the molestation belongs to us, we do not belong to it. While it is a part of my life, it is not my life, nor even the prime motive in my life. While it is a fact and a force, it is not my fate. I did not fight then; I must fight now. I cannot let the demon devour me; truth does not destroy... in the end, I still believe, it liberates.