“The only time sex was fun when we were working on having children.”
“After he was done with me, he showered and went off to have breakfast with a friend. I went back to sleep. I was shocked about what had just happened. It took me back to when my stepfather began abusing me, first slowly talking, then touching, later putting his hand and some type of object inside of me … and then his penis.”
“But I don’t know how to fight, all I know how to do is stay alive.”
-Celie, The Color Purple (1985)
My Dear Readers,
I once again interrupt my self-imposed retreat to re-engage with my beloved readership. My intent is to acknowledge the upcoming Mother’s Day celebration, and in doing so, honor the adversity faced by African American women as they walk the landscape of their lives.
It has been four years since I started writing Bobbi’s Saga. Bobbi (an alias) is alive and continues to work towards emotional and psychological wellness. Since it is Mother’s Day, it only seems fitting that this post celebrates Bobbi continuing to grow and heal as not only a mother, but as a human being.
In this writing, I compare her experiences to that of Celie, the character portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg in the film The Color Purple. Both works truly reflect the traumatic experiences of African American women who continue to “suffer in silence”.
In my work as a clinical traumatologist, I developed the “S Protocol,” a technique designed to assist patients who are experiencing severe emotional distress, having experienced and survived extreme psychological trauma myself.
The S Protocol refers to the structure of the therapeutic environment. There are three main objectives. The first is to provide:
- A Safe and Secure
- Space to Sit with in
- Silence or/and Speak about
- Submerged (unresolved) Stuff
- Surfacing upon the psychological landscape.
The second objective of the S Protocol is to reduce the severity of the re-experienced trauma as it surfaces upon the psychological landscape through reminders such as memories and triggers.
The third objective is to help the individual stabilize and sustain their security and reinforce their self esteem and self-concept. This is the process of self-discovery; the individual reinforces the psychological self, having achieved ABC: advocacy for self, balance within the internal world and calmness in the external environment.
It is within the work of psychotherapy that the therapist commits to the role of companion, consultant, and guide as the individual seeks to walk the landscape during the journey of self-discovery and in doing so, learn about the depth of the psychological self and acquire empowerment skills. It is in the therapeutic work and the enjoining that the individual seeks to transform from the societal designation of “survivor” to the self-declaratory status of “striver.”
Bobbi’s saga is the story of an amazing woman who, in her journey of self-discovery, has transformed from being a victim and a survivor to a striver in the decades following severe childhood sexual abuse. In her journey of self-discovery, she has reached into the depth of her being and achieved self-empowerment.
From Bobbi’s Journal:
I had a session with Dr. Kane today. I was honest with Dr. Kane as usual. I say this because we talked about intercourse.
That is the wrong word. My recent lovemaking with my husband, I can’t even say that. I told Dr. Kane that I felt used. I now feel bad about revealing that.
How do you feel that way after 40 years of marriage? When he puts his hand on my thigh and rubs over my body, he is never touching the “real” me. I am having a hard time writing this.
After 3 years of no sexual contact, he now had an urge that took less than four minutes to fill. He then got up and left; talking about something insignificant, heading to the shower and then to have breakfast with a friend. We never talked about what happened.
Years ago, we talked about the lack of sexual arousal or satisfaction. I always thought it was because of my sexual abuse. I don’t have experiences of lovemaking. I do believe my low self-esteem affected what I expected from sex.
The one person I had sex with besides my husband, someone I was with by choice, I realized just wanted to use me for oral sex. I don’t think my husband had many sexual experiences before being with me. He has refused to talk about previous relationships. After repeatedly asking before and after we got married, I just stopped asking.
I feel lighter about my past abuse. The pain is less, but it is still there. I no longer feel ashamed of myself, most days. I know it wasn’t my fault all the times it happened to me. I now never question that.
Even though I feel so much lighter, the abuse still affects me. The flashbacks still distract me from what I am doing. The triggers still happen often. I never know when to expect them to appear.
I feel that I am different from other people. I grew up feeling not loved, not special, not pretty, not wanted, ashamed, afraid of everything; afraid the landlord was coming back to kill us, and especially growing up feeling that I was not smart.
Growing up in foster care meant I missed all the fun parts of junior high and high school. I was so depressed, but no one noticed. I was poor, having to live on the state allowance of $25.00 a month. All of this continues to this day to make me feel different.
I want to be loved. I know my husband loves me. I want to be pampered and taken care of. I want affection, real hugs and kisses, not those that make you feel you are kissing your grandmother.
There are so many nice things my husband does for the kids and me. I want to think about my life in a different way. It is hard for me to accept reality. I know that is because of the awful things that happened during my childhood.
There are still things that happened to me that I didn’t realize were abnormal. I will never forget the look on Dr. Kane’s face when I told him that the care provider’s son put dirt in our cereal and we got worms. It was just another part of my past to me. That memory, among others, were things I remembered but I did not think was bad.
Mother’s Day, and later in the month, my 40th anniversary is coming up soon. I still want to go away for our anniversary. I doubt that we will do anything. I am going to be really upset, as I have been asking him about this for a year. I am feeling really frustrated.
As a result, I certainly don’t feel cherished, cared for and loved. What do I do? If I say anything, it will start an argument. On Thursday we leave for Washington, DC to see our youngest son graduate from college. I hope we have a wonderful time. I don’t feel relaxed, however. My muscles are tight and I’m having headaches.
I am also questioning my emotions. Are they okay? Am I feeling this way because of my past? I’ve also been angry. Anger is not an emotion I usually have; I wonder if I can let go of the anger surrounding my mother and of her treatment of me.
Discussion- Dr. Kane
At the age of three, Bobbi became the protector of her mother and brother. In a child’s mind, sexually assaulted and fearful of certain death for her family, Bobbi sacrificed the psychological self, holding her traumatic memories of sexual assault to herself, never telling her mother or another responsible adult.
Bobbi’s mother passed away last year. Bobbi continues to struggle with the contradictory feelings of wanting love from and anger toward her mother and her mother’s failure to protect her, her mother’s attempt to blind her and her mother’s abandonment, i.e. putting Bobbi into the state foster care system.
There are significant commonalities between Bobbi’s experiences and those of Celie in the film The Color Purple. Both are black women who exist in contradictory environments, that is, the public image of community in contrast with the underlying realities of emotional and psychological isolation.
There are several common themes at play here:
- Physical and sexual assault in early and middle childhood
- Abandonment and survival, that is, not knowing how to fight and struggling to stay alive.
- Being involved with emotionally unavailable men.
- Hopelessness & inability to remove oneself from ongoing traumatic impacting situations.
- Lack of psychological or emotional supports
However, there are also differences between the two. In the film, Celie’s children are taken away from her, and she lives her life not knowing what has happened to her children. In contrast, Bobbi’s children become her reason for living. Like she did when she first experienced the sexual assault, Bobbi becomes a “protective force” around her loved ones, sacrificing herself to ensure that her own children would never be physically or sexually abused.
40 years and three children later, Bobbi remains in a marriage devoid of intimacy and affection, continuing to carry her traumatic experiences alone. Her husband is now aware of her extensive history of sexual abuse and traumatization, but as revealed in her journal, he remains emotionally unavailable. Still, Bobbi has achieved her goal of protecting her children from harm or abuse, and revels in their success. Her youngest son has recently graduated from a major university.
Bobbi continues to work on her self-empowerment and continues to work on conceptualizing and understanding that trauma is a permanent etching on the psychological self. She is aware that she can be successful in advocating for mental wellness and balancing the traumatic memories and in doing so, she can achieve calmness in both the internal self and the external environment. Although the flashbacks of the abuse that she experiences are less frequent these days, she has accepted that the traumatic memories may at times subside but may never fully go away.
Concluding Words-Dr. Kane
For a moment, I want to reflect on the actions and behaviors of Bobbi’s husband. Like Bobbi, the husband is also psychologically impacted by trauma in his own way. He is a retired African American male who has endured decades of covert/overt racism, rejection and disappointments.
Like many African American men of his generation, he keeps his pain within, choosing instead to “suffer in silence.” He is a loving father and dutiful husband by deeds of being a good provider (food, clothing, shelter.) He makes himself available to carry out any task that Bobbi requests of him. However, he simply does not express his feelings.
Bobbi understood this when she entered the relationship. She was keenly aware that her husband was “emotionally unavailable”. Where other men pressured or demanded sexual relations from Bobbi, when she and her now husband were dating, he made no such demands. He was Bobbi’s “helpmate” and continues to be so today.
The problem here is that Bobbi has never received “true intimacy,” and it is not clear that her husband knows how to provide it. Like Celie, Bobbi suffers in silence and accepts what little affection she receives from her husband. Now, however, Bobbi is speaking up, advocating for herself, wanting balance and calmness in her life. It is apparent that she will continue to make these demands on the relationship.
It remains to be seen, given the husband’s history of emotional unavailability within the relationship and his unwillingness to engage with the depth of his psychological pain, whether transformation in the relationship can be attained.
Still, it would be a failure for us to define him as a villain in Bobbi’s story. He has also been traumatized by his experiences. However, the difference between the two of them is that the husband chooses simply to “survive,” while Bobbi seeks self-empowerment, striving for a life where she can thrive.
It has been my honor and privilege to be Bobbi’s companion on her walk along the human landscape and be able to share in her wisdom arriving from the Journey of Self-Discovery.
The Undiscovered Territory
The past is what it was.
The present is what it is.
In the future lies what is to be uncovered.
It is the undiscovered territory
Waiting for you.
-Dr. Micheal Kane
Please continue to join us as we continue to walk with Bobbi on her journey!
More to come… Bobbi’s Saga.