Getting over abuse
How one woman reclaimed her voice and found her freedom to speak up after years of suffering from a history of abuse. These experiences had made her a target for further abuse from employers, relationships, and members of the medical and legal profession. Here’s her story in her own words.
Finding a Voice
Like the flowing river making its way back to the sea, life had led me to enact the part of the farmer’s wife in the African Folk Tale “The Woman from the Stars”. It was at the point in the story when she discovered that her husband had broken her only requirement of their relationship.
I could not have known that the words I spoke were the manifestation of what I needed to say to many people in whom I had put trust, in my life. I could not have known that this enactment would be preparing me for events that were soon to follow.
Having grown up on a small farm, my affinity to cattle started when I was very young. My mother had often told of how, when I started to crawl, I would make my way out of the farmhouse and crawl down the farmyard and into the cattle pen, where I would often be found amongst their hooves amusing myself. No harm came to me, except for developing ringworm on my face, body and in my hair.
Life in the country was very isolated and solitary. I had no way to express and deal with the pain of the neglect, abuse, abandonment and parental betrayal. Of my parents’ not fulfilling the precious role of protecting a vulnerable, innocent, dependent child (me).
It was not until my 20’s – following a court case where my abusive ex-lover had been taken to court by the police and then had been bound over by the courts to keep away from me – that I found my way to the big city, away from his clutches and to take up employment. (This man was extremely wealthy and a prominent businessman in my family’s community.)
The pain and damage from childhood traumas and my career had led me to become involved in numerous types of therapies. And these were an excellent foundation for the workshop I was to find myself in. My recollection of drama at school was not positive, and this kind of workshop had in no way appealed to me. But having met Claire through other mutual activities, I decided to attend her workshop.
Betrayal – Acting for Real
To set the picture, in the first scene I acted herding the cows (which I had enjoyed because of my affinity to cattle). And in the second scene, I became the farmer’s wife who, while tending her crops on the land, had heard her/my husband’s laughing. She/I instantly knew that the mocking laughter had meant that he had done the one thing she/I had asked him not to.
As the scene unfolded, I as the wife stood facing my/her husband. The moment was so real. I said with all my might and every ounce of my being:
“You betrayed me, our love and the only request I had made of our relationship”.
The pain I felt was unbearable. In that moment I saw the look on the face of the other participant who was acting the part of my husband. It was only a moment, but it felt like minutes. I knew from the expression on his face that the words I had spoken and the pain I felt had at last been heard and understood.
It was a very powerful and healing moment.
The pain I experienced was beyond words. It was the first time I had dared to give voice to the unbearable pain of betrayal I had been living with for so many years. I had talked about the pain with friends, in therapy sessions and group sessions but talking about it did not release the devastation I had experienced.
I could not have then known that the words I spoke in the workshop were to have huge repercussions. I would have the opportunity to speak to them again in a variety of situations.
First, it was to my employer, and to numerous members of the medical and legal professions who were involved in the case, I was fighting as the result of a car accident. Medical experts failed to diagnose a head injury and its impact. Then others changed their medical diagnosis when they saw what more senior medical staff had written. Then the limitations and hidden agendas of the legal profession resulted in paltry compensation.
My employers terminated my employment when they realised my condition, saying that they would be equally culpable if my condition were to get worse. I had felt numerous betrayals and injustices from the incompetencies of these professionals in whom I had put my trust. I could no longer trust my own judgment, and it was important for me to state that I felt betrayed by recording my experience in written statements for all involved to read.
A bigger opportunity
But a much bigger opportunity arose when my sister telephoned me to inform me that my father had died. I knew that if I were to go to the funeral, I would have to face the terrible past and a family who had colluded in abuse and who made me a scapegoat rather than face their own shadows.
Initially, I was told that I could not see my father’s body prior to the funeral. And, in a subsequent telephone call, my other sister basically warned me against attending the funeral, saying she knew what would happen if I did. What could possibly be the reason behind this statement?
I was to find out on the day of the funeral.
The man I had fallen in love with and in whom I had put my trust some 25 years earlier had to my utter disbelief and horror been invited to be a pallbearer for my father’s coffin at the funeral.
This man had betrayed me with affairs with other women, emotional abuse and violence. He had driven a wedge between me and my family. My parents had chosen to support him over me, their vulnerable daughter, during a humiliating court case in which the police had pressed charges against him for his violent behaviour and threats on my life.
My longest-standing friend who had lived through the dreadful ordeal with me in my early 20’s arranged to get me to the chapel of rest to see my father’s body. There I was able to say how hurt and betrayed I had felt as a result of his failings – and to make some peace.
I continually prayed that I might get through the ordeal with dignity and grace. Then in the middle of the funeral service, my brother announced that my former lover, abuser and betrayer would be reading my father’s tribute.
All eyes were on me as he got up from the family pew (where he had been invited to sit with his son by the woman he betrayed me for) and proceeded to speak about my father’s life.
Speaking the words of Betrayal
The pain and humiliation were becoming unbearable. At the graveside, I had comforted my mother as she said goodbye to my father, and as I walked backwards, my ex-lover/abuser took me in his arms and kissed me on the lips – saying that he was pleased to see me, knowing that I had no escape.
As I pulled away from him, I saw the flash of a camera going off in the distance and then realised that my family had arranged to photograph the funeral. To say it was surreal was an understatement and I knew whatever I did would be captured on film for posterity.
I then found myself speaking the words of betrayal I had spoken in the enactment of the African Folk Tale – except this time I was saying them calmly, coherently and with total power.
To all those looking on, it was as if I were having an agreeable exchange with a man from the past. But to me and my friend who knew, this was a man who had caused me immense pain. And who had destroyed my confidence, self-worth, and any relationship with my family for the past 20 years.
Articulate and in total control
I know it is good to own and express my feelings, but sometimes that can work against us women because we are seen as over-emotional and sadly the meaning of what we have to say can be lost.
This time I was articulate and in total control of what I had needed to say. I was able to fully represent myself in a way I had never been able to do before.
I believe that if we surrender, the universe will lead us to what we need to heal. I give thanks for meeting Claire and for the opportunity to attend the perfect workshop at the perfect time which was to be a perfect healing catalyst for me.
I continue my journey with renewed spirit and affinity to cattle.
Vi (her name has been changed to protect her identity)
From Making Moves Newsletter No 5 Autumn 2004
Commentary by Claire
Synchronicity was first observed by Jung who saw chance happenings, coincidences, not as meaningless occurrences but as highly meaningful and evidence of our connection with an unseen pool of experience that he called “the collective unconscious”.
In her article, Vi describes how her participation in the Workshop had precipitated a momentous series of events. You have learned how this courageous woman, who is to my mind a Woman from the Stars (the title of the African tale we worked with), had managed to triumph over the very raw deal that life has dealt her.
Both of us reflected on how her experience in the workshop had in some way paved the way for the events that had followed. Was it by chance that her father died just at the moment that she had found the strength to confront people in her life?
Jung would probably say, “Yes, absolutely”. When we do healing work or make a breakthrough, then this is registered within the collective consciousness. And then things start to happen in mysterious and unforeseen ways.
I know that enacting myths and folk tales that have been told hundreds and thousands of times, mostly through oral tradition, have powerful effects. Working with an African tale, which is even more likely to have a current, alive oral tradition, has the potential to be even more potent – as these tales often reflect the injustices and pain suffered by its people.
It is a way of invoking the collective unconscious through which healing can happen. See this explanation of how this process works.
The story is very simple. A farmer was upset because he believes that someone is stealing the milk from his cattle at night. He watches out for the thieves and is amazed to discover that a group of Star Women have climbed down from the stars and have been gaily milking his cows. When they run away, he catches one of them. The Woman agrees to become his bride on the condition that he must never look in her basket.
For a while, the farmer is happy with his wife, but as time passes, his curiosity eats at him. Finally, he peeps into his wife’s basket and discovers that there is nothing in the basket. Triumphantly he faces her with the “truth” about her basket.
This is the scene that Vi played out that had had so much significance for her. The Woman from the Stars spoke the words of betrayal that she had never before been able to speak – and this liberated her to find her own words.
This is the magical power of drama. To give us permission to speak and act in ways that open up doors to freedom.
At the end of the story, the Woman from the Stars leaves the farmer and returns to her sisters. The farmer is left to grieve for what he has lost, the magical woman who will never return. After speaking her truth, Vi too was able to turn her back on the man and the family who had betrayed her, and who would never do so again. She truly was a Woman from the Stars returning to her “true home”, the Stars and her “sisters” (good friends who believed in her and supported her). She finally found the healing to put her abuse behind her, and the confidence to take her place in the world.
The beauty of working with a story like the “Woman from the Stars” is that it raises human experience into the realm of the magical and the otherworldly. It offers a way to elevate the mundanity of this life into the transcendental.
The Woman from the Stars was magical. She was able to respond powerfully to the betrayal she experienced. Finally Vi was able to do this.
© Claire Schrader
Making Moves Newsletter 2004
As Vi discovered, the healing and transformational potential of working in this way can never be known in advance. It is a kind of magic that is quite simply beyond words and the capacity of the logical mind.