For the past two years, I have attended a weekend retreat in New Jersey in the month of April with Making Daughters Safe Again (MDSA). Dr. Christine Hatchard is a practicing clinical psychologist and the heart and mind behind the opportunity for women like myself, who are survivors of mother-daughter sexual abuse, to have a safe space with skilled staff to do the hard work of processing and healing. For most of us there have been next to no opportunities to come together with others who understand the impossible inner conflict of having been sexually abused by the one person we ought to be able to turn to for love and protection, no matter what else is happening around us. The need and desire to love our mothers, the deep wounds, the damage from being violated, having our boundaries shattered by them, there is no ready way to reconcile one with the other.
I have written a bit about my impressions and experiences at the retreats in 2015 and 2016. This year, I did not attend, although I was warmly invited and told that I made important contributions to the group each year. That was so nice to hear! It was purely a matter of practicalities—time, mainly, and some upcoming plans—that made me decline the invitation this year.
I picked up my mail at the post office yesterday. Among the AARP magazine, the junk mail, the bills, the note from a friend with information about a lovely garden to visit in our area, was an envelope that had handwriting that looked familiar. As I opened the folded card inside, I remembered: at the end of the retreat, we each wrote a note to ourselves. We were told that if we were able to attend the next year, we would open them at the retreat, and if not, they would put them in the mail to us. The message began simply enough: One year past your second MDSA retreat. What do you hope to get from this year’s retreat? If you are unable to attend, you’re finding this in your mailbox. How can you honor your process reflective of what you achieve through the retreat?
Then, this: What is still difficult?
I took a few seconds to orient myself to what I was looking at, and then I found that the answer came in a heartbeat: trust.
One of the most important things I’ve come to realize is that when I take apart all the pieces of my story, the difficulty with staying connected to people, the marriages, including one spouse who I can say without hesitation is not at fault for the failure of the relationship, the struggling with really letting people know my heart, at the center of this is a tremendous difficulty, even an inability, to fully trust. Trust process. Trust a person. This is hard for me to explain. It is not that I don’t think that I have people in my life who are trust-worthy, because I do. It’s not about them.
It is heartbreaking, really, to have tried for so long, and to see that there is a fundamental breakdown in me. I can love, and I can help, I can appreciate. I can even let people help me (sometimes). Trust is something else again.
I’m on a path of reconciling this fact of my existence, and finding ways to let people in and take real risks. I want the people who love and care about me to know how much it means to me, even as I struggle at the core with trust.
Baby steps, but knowing and shining light on these things is a help.