Wednesday, October 11, 2006
"Que muero porque no muero."
"That I die because I do not die." - John of the Cross.
Pictured, "St. Sebastian" by Mimmo Rotella
I have often painted St. Sebastian, who had been shot with arrows, left to die, only to be revived and submit himself for martyrdom again. In a sense, for me, he became an allegory for what happens to a person who has been sexually abused in childhood. The image shown here by Rotella, is particularly poignant since the saint is visible only as an outline, his body simply a shell, his identity obscured.
Speaking to a friend who had been abused and degraded as a child, we discussed the issue of identity, self image, and dissociative experience. Oftentimes, at the moment of violence, the victim removes herself mentally from the actions being performed upon her. This can result in a dissociative personality disorder that endures throughout one's life. Or, it can be simply a coping mechanism that does not become pathological. Then again, the person may so identify with the personality they either invented or embraced, they become conditioned to accept it as being their true identity. In such a case, this new, safe identity helps them to navigate through life, unknown to outsiders.
My friend is going through great passages of self-knowledge and acceptance, experiencing a wonderful freedom of spirit. At times however, the wounds reopen and she goes through difficult times dealing with the hurt, the pain, and the anger - as well as the lonely sense of isolation that is the result of having one's self-image disfigured by abuse. I mentioned my concept of St. Sebastian, having died in a sense, only to be revived, yet the stigmata of his wounds remaining. However it is a long, difficult process of healing that one must go through. Something someone cannot just "get over".
I compared it to the mystery of the saints who actually had the stigmata, which would open and bleed on Fridays and feasts of the passion. In similar fashion, I believe the person who has been abused, while on the road of recovery, perhaps all of their lives, will periodically relive the event with all it's pain and suffering - only now, like the stigmatist, the person may have a better awareness of who they are and what happened to them and what the pain means. In a sense, the suffering becomes redemptive and healing. (This is best accomplished if the person prays and frequents the sacraments, as my friend does.) Nevertheless, no outsider can ever understand the person's interior martyrdom of spirit. They die because they do not die.
Abuse is a terrible crime against a child, it kills the spirit in a manner, it devastates the identity. The person's resurrection from this death is difficult, although often taking a lifetime, it is not impossible. Oftentimes we mistake others behavior, even their sinful life, as a willful moral failing. To be sure, sin is sin, yet I have met prostitutes and promiscuous people, as well as homosexuals, whom I believe are living in such a way as to assuage their pain. Often victims of sexual abuse or some other trauma, they adopt an identity or way of acting that alleviates their misery, or in the worst case scenario, they are living out the personality they adopted after the degrading assault or trauma they experienced. They self-fullfil the prophecy that seemingly damned them to make such a choice, albeit, not a choice made in complete freedom. Many alcoholics do the same thing. It's not a satisfactory remedy however.
Remember to pray for the living dead.