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Getting Out : Generations

Handmaid's Tale

from anovagrrl - Monday, January 31, 2005
accessed 1329 times

I never asked to be a nanny when I was in The Family. I was TOLD to sleep in the nursery and take care of the kids.

I lost a lot of sleep, and if you're a parent, you know it's hard not to resent your children and keep from going off the deep end with frustration when you're sleep deprived. The birthing process creates a chemical bond that allows mothers to instinctively respond to their newborn. The colicky babies who kept me up at night were'nt even my own, but I was supposed to act as though they were.

Then there were all those baby diapers I was expected to wash out every day. One time I remember being shamed by the shepherdess for failing to get one of her baby's precious nappies absolutely clean before putting it in the washer. It's really hard to stand outside in freezing weather with a hose of running water and immerse your chapped hands in all that cold water and urine. So I got a little lax with rinsing all the excrement out. Mom told me I should have known the damn thing was going onto the baby Jesus' butt, not into the washing machine.

After I received this blasting in the form of public humiliation, I'm naturally feeling resentful and violated. A little time and private space to lick my wounds would have helped, but the next thing I know, Dad (the home's shepherd) is giving me a pious little sermon (after I finished cooking dinner and doing the dishes). I was "gently" warned about the danger of letting a "root of bitterness" grow in my heart before going upstairs to the nursery for the night. I say "gently" because he put his arm around me in that creepy, overly familiar way some Family men naturally assumed. I could smell his rotten breath and that meant he was too close for comfort.

In a multitude of ways, this the basic message I heard from my leaders: We're allowed to treat you like an object. You're not allowed to feel anything as a result of our behavior or have a point of view other than submission.

If I had put up with that reality for very long--say years and years--there's a very high probability I would have become a bully in the nursery, and later, a torturer in the victor camps. Or perhaps something worse. I'll admit it: The thought of putting a pillow over a screaming baby's mouth crossed my mind once. It was the child of the home's shepherdess, a woman who made my life of sacrificial service sheer hell.

Fortunately, I chose a different path, and I left The Family less than two years after joining. Before I left, I watched a small child being beaten by an adult Family member. It was in 1973, and I was 21-years-old. It upset me, and I questioned my leaders about it. I was told this harsh discipline of a two-year-old was necessary for the child to get the victory. Having grown up being slapped around and beaten myself, I didn't know what I was seeing happen to that child is called abuse. I only knew that it felt very wrong.

Knowing what it feels like to be slapped around as a child, I also know what it feels like to want to lash out at someone, anyone. I know what it feels like to be filled with the cold fury of a calculating rage. I have been 11-years-old with a sharp knife in my hand and vowed to even the score. I know what it feels like to be sexually violated. I have been 15-years-old sitting in a tub of hot water with a razor blade in my hand.

I do not believe child abuse is a justification for murder or suicide. But being abused as a child is a major reason why I still think about killing myself, even though I have learned how manage and control those thoughts. There are still times when I get very angry and rageful. During those times, I find myself thinking about ways to hurt someone. I will probably struggle with the intrusion of violent, suicidal thoughts until the day I die, which I hope is from natural causes. I hope that I wake up one day completely healed of these recurrent, intrusive thoughts. In the meantime, I've learned how to cope.

If the people who abused me were still living, they be very surprised to hear these things, because I kept it to myself for a long, long time. I let them know I was very angry, but I never let them know the depth of the damage. I didn't tell anyone about these thoughts until I was 33 years old, making a plan to swallow a bottle of sedatives, and believing I was at the point I had nothing to lose.

The reason I'm speaking of these things now and in this forum is because I believe we are only as sick as the secrets we keep. If I've said anything here that's similar to stuff that goes on in your own head, talk about it with someone you trust, someone who wants you to go on living. Educate yourself about the psychological effects of childhood trauma. Consider getting checked out by a doctor or mental health professional. Get more than one opinion.

Over the last 20 years, I've been in and out of treatment several times. The right therapist, the right medications, and education on the basics of self care have made a positive difference in my life. I've reached the age of 53 without killing myself or someone else. But I do not judge myself to be better than people who have suicided or lashed out in murderous rage. I only wish things could have been different for them.

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Monday, January 31, 2005 - 23:22

Good title. I recently read "The Handmaid's Tale" and it was like going back to the inclement nightmare that was life as a teenager in The Family in the late 80's and early 90's.
(reply to this comment)
From challenger
Tuesday, February 01, 2005, 00:16


Thaks for sharing your story with all of those of us who can relate. I am sorry for your losses, and glad that you are still around.

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