What’s with this about being a naturist? -or- How I Survived Darkness
This is a hard piece of writing to bring out of my mind so that you can read it and perhaps understand a bit more of who I am and why I am the way I am. As I meditated this morning, I was able to sit still and listen without judging, just listen to what was coming up from deep within. Usually I don’t do this very well, as I banish what is bubbling up with an inner comment that tells me to listen to my breathing – in and out – to barely touch what comes up and simply say, “thinking” and then “let it go.” I am as much of a stranger to myself as I am to everyone else; and in a way, that has been a deliberate strategy I have used throughout my life as a way to protect myself and hopefully protect those around me from the dark, dank and dangerous stuff that lies buried deep within myself.
The past haunts me. I am not alone in being haunted by the past. Traumatic events leave a permanent mark upon those who are traumatized. The trauma is coded into both the body and the psyche, that inner, intangible part of self. With certain triggers, I find myself back in time, reliving the traumatic event. At that moment I am not “remembering” the event, but “living” the event. And in the re-living of the event, I am doing this not as an adult with adult understandings, but as a child or youth with the limited awareness that was available to me. This experience of re-living trauma is felt by anyone who has suffered what we now call PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder. One relives and then re-emerges back into the present shaken to the core.
I won’t be going into specifics of the trauma, yet I will talk about how I managed to move forward in order to reach today. Along the way, it didn’t seem too likely that I would make it this far. Suicide has always been lurking, skulking along like some dark and sinister ghost that is daring me to be courageous enough to end it all, to stop the pain.
As a young child, I learned how to fear. For whatever reason, my father’s demons too often turned him into a very angry person who would lash out with his fist or belt or whatever was at hand to battle those demons. The trouble with that was the fact that it was his children who strangely carried the triggers and it was his children who then received the attacks meant for his demons. I know that now as an adult that has studied and trained to understand human behaviour and misbehaviour. He wasn’t always like this. When the demons had retreated, he knew how to laugh and make others laugh. He was a pied piper with charisma that somehow convinced others to follow him all over the place.
And so, as a child, I wasn’t able to establish roots, I wasn’t able to be grounded. We lived in more than twenty different “homes” in five different provinces by the time I was in grade nine. My father was a lost man, always looking for the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. He was searching everywhere for fame and fortune and for love.
It wasn’t enough that he had a wife and children. He needed constant confirmation of being loved. His children loved him, but they also feared him and it showed in how they would cower as well as in the “deer caught in the headlights’ look” that would always appear when things got a bit shaky. As the oldest of his children, I saw those looks and likely had the same look and body response as my brothers and sisters. So, he found other women in his search to find approval and love. And as a result, we have half-brothers and sisters in various parts of Canada.
My mother loved my father, intensely. My father lusted after my mother. She became pregnant with me as a young teenager and was forced out of her English family home and moved in to my father’s Métis-French family home. When I was born, I was given the name Robert as a means of trying to re-open the door back into my mother’s family. When she got pregnant she was disinherited and declared not part of the family by her father, Robert Sr. Would they have married if I hadn’t been conceived? In hindsight, I would think the marriage wouldn’t have happened. Robert Sr. would have used the threat of expulsion and disinheritance effectively. However, there’s no point in saying any more about “maybe.” What can be said is that the roots of resentment were planted, resentment that would surface years later after festering unconsciously.
He would disappear, a number of times, from whatever home we were living it in at that time, off on another search. His disappearance added to the trauma of home life as our mother would then fall into her own darkness and be unable to effectively parent whatever children were in the home at each given time of his disappearances. As the oldest of the children, I then had to become the parent. The first time I remember slipping into the role of parent was when I was in grade five while living in Hull, Quebec. I know now that it wasn’t the first time he had “abandoned” his wife. He had left home for a dream just after I was born. He left home again before David was born. Both times, it was the extended Longpré family that filled in to parent for both times our home was in my grandparents’ home. So early in their marriage, his abandoning of my mother was in part responsible for her dysfunctional role as a mother.
Living within my head, not having a sense of grounding, and being an introvert, I became easy prey for pedophiles, priests. My life up to that point had been so chaotic that I didn’t even know that it was wrong. Priests and nuns could do no wrong. A sense of sexuality and curiousity about the human body was awakened. At home, I had seen nudity in natural settings as it is hard to hide when so many live in very tight quarters. However, curiousity about the naked human body was something else, something seen as perverted. And that curiousity was punished with beatings from my father.
Poverty was a frequent state of being for our family. One moment we would be living as though we were rich with my father driving a new car and our home of that time filled with new furniture; and then within weeks, all of it would be gone, repossessed. We would move from a house to a flat and then to live again with my grandparents, a repeating cycle that continued until I was in grade eleven when we moved to an acreage in Carlsbad Springs. Those moments of having it all was about things, not about finally being able to meet the real needs of children. As a result, each of us as children learned shame and we responded differently to that shame because we were individuals with unique personalities.
Neither my father nor my mother were focused on children. Both of them were self-centered or narcissistic. Others around them, children, siblings, and other adults were given the role of constantly meeting the needs of both my parents. My father went out of the immediate family for these needs and my mother had her children focus on meeting her needs. Each time any of the children did anything that would or could reflect poorly on my father was met with violence and verbal humiliation. Each time any of the children didn’t cater to my mother’s needs, she would engage in subtle violence and demeaning remarks. A look of almost sheer hatred would come from her eyes as she took out her anger on us. Yet, they were our parents and we loved them as best we could between the tears, the humiliations and the bruises. And, we continued to do what we could to earn their love.
Those last words are important – to do what we could to earn their love – for they would lead each of us to stop being children too early and to do things that should never be done by children. And, they led some if not all of us to see ourselves as failures for none of the things we did had ever changed the way our parents were with us.
When I was in grade five, after my father had abandoned the family in Hull, my mother turned to me to care for my siblings. I was ten years old and was washing clothes, cooking meals and satisfying her needs which meant that I was intimately aware of a mature woman. I learned too much while I saw my mother suffer from the absence of my father. I carried too much responsibility as the “child-man” of the house and as the “child-parent.” And when my father returned, I disappeared back into the woodwork, emerging to answer summons to duty. I began hiding, escaping into nature or into closets. I didn’t know how to handle any of it, so I buried it, denied it, and threw away the key that locked the trauma away someplace deep and dark.
The next few years became a nightmare – another priest pedophile in Coaldale, Alberta where I was learning to be an altar boy – working farm fields with David while we are eleven and ten so that our parents could have the money we would get picking green beans. We started school that year in Coaldale and in the early winter, we returned to the east, Pte. Gatineau, Quebec, where we finished our school year then moving again to start a new school year in Gatineau, Quebec, then moving to a new school in Guelph before moving to Bassano, Alberta then on to Calgary by the end of the school year. Starting school in Calgary until sometime in November when the gypsy train took us to Texas. In Fort Worth we were living in a motel where I was taken from a shower and thrown naked across a motel room filled with extended family. I was also given another beating for pestering an uncle that was pestering me. Before Christmas we were moving on to California for Christmas and New Year’s before the clan ran back to Canada to escape extradition, landing in New Westminster, B.C. in mid-January where I again went to school, only to then have the family sent back to eastern Canada by the welfare office in New Westminster so that we would find ourselves going to school in Aylmer, Quebec where our father again left us in the spring and we followed near the end of June to end up for two months in a small town called New Dayton, Alberta.
I know, it kind of leaves one breathless. So many places so quickly and so many schools. I had learned the art of dissociation, a skill that likely saved my sanity when it came to more sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, and the sexual humiliation in Texas as a pre-teen. The beatings along the way were “normal” events and didn’t matter anymore.
Then, we did something that was unexpected. We stayed in Bow Island, Alberta for two school years where I completed grade seven and eight. Early during our stay in Bow Island, the parish priest made overtures to my again becoming a sexual accomplice, overtures that I turned down. I stopped being a Catholic though we went to a Catholic school. I began to make friends who introduced me to prairie boy skinny-dipping in dugouts, a non-threatening nudity. I also had my first girlfriend, a non-sexual relationship. I got my first guitar from my earnings from delivering newspapers. What I earned didn’t have to be given to my parents as my father had the role of chief constable of the town’s police force.
The beatings continued from my father, and a new punishment was given – being jailed if I didn’t measure up and having to wash the locked jail cell floors. And in the spring of the second year, our father took off again. We didn’t know it at the time, but he was fleeing fraud charges associated with his employment. It wasn’t long after his disappearance that I caught my mother trying to shoot herself with my 22 calibre rifle. When I finally wrested the rifle from her, I took it out to the shed, dismantled it and through away the firing pin so that it couldn’t be used again when I was at school and couldn’t intervene. For the second time, I became the “man” around the house.
Then in August, the call from my father came telling my mother to get the family to Winnipeg where he had a nice home waiting for us. There was no money sent to pay for the bus fares to Winnipeg. Whatever money David and I had, my bicycle and my guitar and anything else we could sell was used along with the latest welfare money to buy the bus tickets. When we got to the house, we found that it was quite new – but there was a problem – the previous occupants had kept dogs in the basement and it was filled with dog shit and stank to high heaven. David and I were given the task of cleaning it all up.
I started high school in Winnipeg. I played school soccer and community football and on weekends David and I would wander all over the place. We were inseparable. Winnipeg seemed like we had finally found our father’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And then on Thanksgiving weekend we left in the night heading back to Ottawa. Again another issue of fraud, this time against the Catholic Church press who had been my father’s employer as he sold bibles and books. Problem was that he never turned in the money he earned from the sales, good money.
We arrived in Ottawa, broke. We crammed into our grandparents’ apartment – seven kids and two adults sleeping in one room. It was another month before we had an opportunity to go back to school. Again, it became a carrousel of changing houses. I ended up going to three different high schools in Ottawa by the time I was two months into grade ten. Life was continuing on in our “normal” way of living. When I was in grade eleven, things changed – my mother’s mother died and my mother’s father decided I was his comforter, and that required passivity as he became my last sexual abuser.
We then left Ottawa to settle on an acreage in Carlsbad Springs where the family stayed for more than five years. I left home and I buried the past in so many layers that I came to forget that so many horrors had been in that past. I met a beautiful girl, married her, I had beautiful children with her and a great career as a teacher. We made ourselves a home in Lanigan, Saskatchewan for twenty years in one house. I had it made and that should be the end of the story. But . . .
Trauma has a way of worming its way out of its imprisonment. All it takes are triggers. The first big trigger was the death of my father. Nine years later, it was the suicide of my brother, Larry that totally through open the gates of hell. Nightmares, punching my head until it was swollen, neglect of my work, stress in my marriage – all of this pushing me closer and closer to another dance with suicide. I had a choice – either do it or do something about it.
Then after doing a lot of psychological work, a truce was declared and life returned to some kind of normal. I had written twenty-five pages of remembered trauma. That normal began to be severely tested when my mother began to fail in her health. With her death, the doors of hell opened wider and I returned to intensive psychological support in order to survive. The stuff remembered turned my world upside down. It was during this time that I remembered what I did after my grandfather sexually abused me – I retreated into nature, stripped naked and let the sun help heal me, let the sun try to clean away the sin. And then I remembered all the small bits and pieces of naturism that had been a part of raising our children, and during the first years of married life between two individuals learning how to be best friends as well as husband and wife.
So much stuff to come from a morning of meditation. Letting it all come out and then accepting it with compassion and acceptance. I am damaged goods. I have become a conscious naturist and Buddhist as part of my healing journey. This is who I am and I accept it. I am learning to love that person who danced with darkness much too long. I can’t change my past. I can’t undo the damage I have done on my journey to get to today. But I can understand and accept and find compassion for myself and others.
Thanks for listening.