Repost at Stir Journal: On Forgiveness, Trust, and Desire (Part Two)


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Continuing with the re-posting of my essays run at Stir Journal ( I offer the link to Part Two here. I encourage readers to spend time at Stir Journal. They are doing some important and creative work!

Repost at Stir Journal: On Forgiveness, Trust, and Desire (Part One)

I was pleased to have my essay included in the conversation around forgiveness and the culture of forgiveness in Stir Journal last week. Part Two will run as well.

There were some marvelous comments offered by readers. My two-fold intention for putting this out there is for myself, my healing work, and to offer connection, even hope, to others who live with the impact of abuse in their lives and the lives of loved ones.

Stir Journal is doing some incredible work. From their Facebook page, about Stir Journal: STIR Journal is committed to exploring the gray areas of controversial issues. We provide a space for constructive and productive conversation.

On Forgiveness, Trust, and Desire (Part Two)


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Entangled in Chaos by JEA 9-2013 part two Forgiveness Trust and Desire

I do some of my best thinking while I’m in the shower. Surely that’s not an uncommon thing. Maybe it’s the warm water coursing over the body, relaxing the muscles and releasing tension that may also be locking up thought processes. Anyway, one recent morning my mind wandered over to an essay that I had written, at that point, nearly a year ago. The piece itself is not very lengthy, but it took the better part of my life to be ready to formulate those sentences and share them with, at least theoretically, the whole world. In it, I spoke of my experience as a survivor of mother-daughter sexual abuse. Here is the link to that piece, if you wish to read it. Although this piece stands on its own, reading the earlier essay can put the current piece into perspective:

As in Part One, we are now in the period of days prior to the Jewish New Year during which we are mindful of the need to reflect on the past year, on situations in which we may have harmed others, and those in which we have been harmed. We make sincere offers of apology and pleas for forgiveness. We open our hearts to accept apology offered to us, and grant forgiveness for trespasses we have endured. In the earlier essay I have spoken about the internal struggle I have had in trying to find a way towards forgiveness of my mother’s abusive, harmful actions towards me. Those actions which were not limited to abuse of a sexual nature, but for many reasons, my perception, my reality, is that it was those that caused the gravest harm to me. I will be 51 years old next month, and I am only fairly recently moving towards a habituation of love and appreciation for myself and having a relatively balanced sense of comfort in my own skin.

I’d had an expectation of myself after sharing that essay. I anticipated taking a few months to let the feeling of having put it all out there become more natural, after fielding the comments from readers both publicly shared and privately messaged. I sat down and began to write no fewer than half a dozen times between December and July, but barely got started before I got stuck and had to walk away. I was doing a lot of emotional work during that time, which I will touch on here, but I could not get my next set of thoughts to flow. I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to accomplish. I thought, well, maybe that’s all there was? Maybe that’s all I needed to do? It didn’t resonate with me, though, given the rich inner experiences I was having around healing.

Then, with a head of hair full of Pert shampoo, I began to reflect on some work done by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu. The Forgiveness Challenge is a sensitive, thoughtful, and structured approach to forgiveness. I shall not spend a lot of time describing their work, but I will share the link and encourage you to check it out. It is eye-opening and potentially life changing healing work from two people who know more than a little about the need to forgive.  I am in the process of working through the steps, and I read a few pages of their related (but not required) book, The Book of Forgiving. Just prior to my introduction to The Forgiveness Challenge, I had engaged in a series of sessions with a local and very skilled practitioner of EFT. Emotional Freedom Technique. Here again I will not go into tremendous depth about the practice, although you must feel free to send me a message if you have questions. I am generally skeptical about such alternative techniques that make claims that cannot readily be scientifically defended. I suspended judgment because I was curious about it after having a long conversation with the practitioner in an unrelated setting, and because I was in a lot of pain and the idea of freeing up some of that stuff that was holding me back was very tempting. In the end, I found it to be unexpectedly helpful, in that it gave me some language and tools to use to reorient myself and focus my responses to my emotional reactions.

As I rinsed out my hair (which I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’m allowing to grow longer and wilder by the day) and thought about these different experiences of not merely thinking about forgiveness, but building the skills I seem to lack around relationships, and I had a sudden realization that the next part, and the next essay, would relate the complexity of Trust and Desire in the context of healing from abuse, and about how it is about nothing less than forgiveness: what it is, what it looks like and feels like and how the process of forgiving another for serious transgressions such as child abuse, spousal abuse, hate crimes, is as much about building the framework for healing oneself from the damage of shame, guilt, layers of secrets and self-loathing as it does about freeing the other from the shackles they wear as a result of their crimes—both metaphorical and (occasionally) literal.

As I did with the first essay on the subject, I have borrowed (with permission) a photo taken by friend and nature photographer Eric Abernethy. He has done some remarkable photographic work with birds, turtles, beavers, and a host of others on Lake Lucas, and more recently wanders deep in the Sandhills region of North Carolina capturing phenomenal images of snakes, frogs, and other delights. It’s his imagery from the lake that resonates so strongly for me around this subject: in the first, the mirror work from the dark places, swimming deep and desperate for a lungful of air, and in this, a tangle of thatch, leaves, webs, yet there is sunlight shining through the in-between places. I get the sense of coming up for air: still not in the clear but there is ample reason to be hopeful. The surface is about to be broken.

September 11th Reflections

I’ve been given feedback that suggests it may be worthwhile to reblog/repost this particular piece. I welcome additional reflections.

Visions of Song

east river drive traffic
Thinking about September 11, 2001
by Deborah Marcus on Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 7:59pm ·

I don’t think that I have ever written anything in any venue about September 11th.  Sometimes it is hard to believe that it has been 9 years since that morning when things shifted in our corner of the universe. I have many and conflicting thoughts about the days events: what led up to it, who and what played roles in the culmination that was 9/11. Mostly I think about the feelings and experiences of those around me, as I observed them. Those observations were largely visual, for at that time I was not yet a cochlear implant recipient. I wore no hearing aids, and depended to the largest extent on lipreading and other visual clues, with my remaining hearing filling in only the smallest gaps in my experiential world. And so, it was with muffled sounds around me I stepped…

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On Forgiveness, Trust, and Desire (Part One)


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You’re my daughter. I can do what I want.” 

This is the time of year in the Jewish tradition that one focuses with intent on matters of redemption and forgiveness. We look deeply into ourselves through the mirror of the past year, making a frank appraisal of our thoughts and our conduct towards our friends and family, our communities, ourselves. Whenever possible, we are to approach those who we may have harmed, and offer up apology and request for forgiveness from the injured parties. We are to allow ourselves to be open to those who approach us with a willing spirit, asking the same of us. Over the years I have been an exuberant participant in the rituals related to Selichot, the penitential prayer period. It feels right to tell someone I am sorry for any hurt I may have inflicted, intentionally or unintentionally, and to grant forgiveness to those who apologize for their own transgressions. In some instances it has been difficult, but never has there been any regret for apology or forgiveness.  It lightens the load of living, it really does.

There is one exceptional challenge in this process for me. Every year I run up against it, and though I see it from a different angle each time, it remains impervious to this redemptive process. I have made my usual attempts to find it in my heart, for myself as much as the other, to forgive egregious transgressions. I have also gone at it from the other side, bringing into the light some of the issues and asking for the opportunity to work together through some aspects of it, but I have met with the strongest denial and resistance. In other words, I have asked to be offered an opportunity to resolve bad feelings and be offered apology for transgression against me, and I have attempted to freely give forgiveness in the absence of such an offering. I pirouette and do running jumps and backward flips and I remain where I stand.

I am a sexual abuse survivor. The perpetrator was my mother. Until very recently, I shared this truth with precious few. I have since shared the truth with a handful of friends. Only recently have I begun to realize that I harm not only myself by keeping my truth the world’s best-kept secret. It denies others the possibility of understanding that yes, there are mothers who sexually abuse their children. It does harm to other women (and men) who feel they are truly the only person on earth who has survived this particular abuse, that there is nowhere to turn, no one who can understand their experience. There is a fair amount in the literature that reflects belief about the destruction wrought due to sexual abuse by one’s own mother. The shattering of innocence by the primary nurturer, the one who we ought to be able to run to when we are hurt, or scared, or in danger, is seen as emotionally devastating for the survivor. But few seem to have actually met any of us. There is a belief that it is rare, that the maternal impulse is that strong. Perhaps it is. But I suspect it is not as rare as we wish to believe.

I have a love for life that is immeasurable. I am still here because of it, and I say with no posturing that there have been times that I have wondered if I should even bother living with the memories, the scars layered on my emotional terrain thick and rough-edged. I’ve come to understand that what happened to me was not my fault, I had no power to control it, and that it doesn’t have to dictate my every move. But there is the layer below the intellectualizing where I live with the visceral knowledge of the devastation left behind. I no longer swim in its waters daily. I have survived and thrived in numerous ways. But the body doesn’t lie. It has taken a systematic approach to reclaiming my body, its feelings and functions, without shame or anger towards it. I have had some success in exploring this new path, and I have become ferocious in defense of my sensuous nature and I am a champion of anyone else walking a path of such self-discovery.

The image that accompanies this piece was not of my own hand. It’s the creation of Eric Abernethy, nature and wildlife photographer. Part of his “mirror” series, I use it with his permission.  I see in it a reflection of where I have been when immersed in sensory experience. Many abuse survivors report having a lack of feeling during sex, of an inability to respond. Even when receiving otherwise safe and nurturing touch, sensation is distorted or absent. In my consenting relationships, I’ve never lost the ability to respond, to sense, to feel. What I’ve had was a hatred for my body and its ability to feel.  I’ve engaged in some strange mental wanderings to survive it, swimming deep at times.                                                      There is some wreckage at the bottom of the lake. There are gems down there, too. I did not know this for a long time. Soon I will tell you more about what I found along the way. It is terrifying to put this out there for others to see, but I intuitively know that it’s the only way for me to move forward.  


The Reader


“I was 10 years old. He was my cousin, 15 years old. It wasn’t pretty.”

We lay in bed, face down, shoulder to shoulder, he with his arms around his pillow, and I propped up on my elbows as I took in the full significance of this statement. Gary and I had met just days before, when I arrived in town after 36 hours on an Amtrak train from Denver to Oakland, the last leg over the Bay Bridge by bus into San Francisco. I’d heard about a budget hotel in the financial district.  Arriving on a Sunday afternoon, it was a veritable ghost town. I entered the small lobby, and was registered by a man behind the window of the hotel office. Pleasant and soft spoken, with light blue eyes, and his hair, a soft pale blond, was thinning heavily on the top, making him appear a bit older than he actually was. He took my driver’s license as identification. A smile came over his face as he said “we’re just a few months apart in age”. He asked me what brought me to San Francisco. “I am traveling around, seeing different parts of the country this summer,” I said. He was intrigued that a female would be traveling alone for an extended period of time, on public transportation, with no particular agenda. Gary offered to give me a tour of the city. It may seem odd, but I knew right away that it would be OK, that it would not be dangerous for me to spend time with him. It felt familiar around him, like I had been here before, and I was supposed to meet up with him right here in this place. I rode the elevator, with its steel gate that swung across the opening of the car, up to my floor. I suppose that some of what seemed a déjà vu experience stemmed from the sights and smells in that old building. I later learned that many old buildings in the West were built with materials that came by rail from the East. It was the steel and brick of my childhood in Brooklyn that I was feeling all around me. But at the time I simply had a powerful sense of place, of memory, of the rightness of being there.  

Gary finished his shift late that evening. I met him in the lobby, and we walked out and down the street towards Chinatown. San Francisco’s Chinatown is a sight to behold, especially for a newcomer. We walked and talked and stopped for an egg roll and soda, and I thought to myself “you are crazy, woman. You could get yourself killed, wandering around a strange city late at night with some guy who works the front desk of a budget hotel.” I was not and still am not one to take up quickly with another, man or woman, platonic or sexual. But felt an affinity with this man, and I decided that there were worse ways to die. If this was to be my last night on earth, well, I was spending it in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with a kind, handsome man who was on my path at that moment. I’m not sure if it was that night, or one of the nights to follow, that he told me that he’d been in jail for selling cocaine. “I wasn’t a very good drug dealer, obviously” he said. He did not run with drug dealers or users, he was simply broke and had nothing to fall back on at that point. He came out of jail, found the job at the hotel, and that’s where he ended up staying for a couple of years before moving on. He had the next day off, and we wandered the city together. He was a grand tour guide, having lived there for several years, and I was grateful and delighted. He knew that I had no money, and offered to let me stay in his room while I was there. What was interesting at this juncture was that nothing physical had taken place between us. He spontaneously bought me a flower while we were walking around that day, but nothing more. He went to work that evening, gave me the key to his room, and said I should just go up and check it out. His room was part of his pay, and he decorated it as only a 25 year old man could in 1989: a couple of busty nude photos on the wall, a pack of Marlboro and a small bottle of whiskey on the nightstand. The bathroom was the cleanest I’d ever seen, the colors of the bedding earthy and warm. He had stacks of cassette tapes and a stereo, and he had books. He had a lot of books. I decided to stay for a while. “What the hell” was actually what I said to myself. I couldn’t really afford to stay there on my hostelling budget, but I liked the place. I liked Gary. We shared that room for a week. I wandered on my own when he was working, and then we’d go around the city on his hours off. I watched him a lot: how he moved, what he said, what he didn’t say. Though we became lovers, that was a small part of the fact that even after all of these years, and not a lot of time together (we had that week, and a couple of months about a year later when I moved to San Francisco) he is very much a part of me. Every night that I was with him he would read before bed. In the morning if he had no place to go, he would read. If you’re a reader, you may think well so what, lots of people read! During our week together that summer, he confided in me that he had lived in a very unstable environment as a child, with his mother and various relatives. Books were his comfort, his escape. When he was in the sixth grade, he was raped by a 15 year old male cousin. When he realized that there was no help, no protection, available to him there, he ran away. He had only his skateboard, his denim jacket, and his sharp wits to sustain him. He regaled me with stories of wandering through the Grand Tetons, hitching rides, working odd jobs, doing whatever he had to do to survive. He never returned to school after the sixth grade, yet he was one of the most voracious readers I have ever met. With some gentle encouragement that yes, yes, he was smart enough to take the GED, he took the plunge and took the pretest (which showed only some minor math deficiencies), prepped and passed on the first try. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he got his certificate. He might as well have been receiving his doctorate, the moment was so powerful.

We drifted apart after awhile, not with any malice, simply because we seemed to have done what we needed to do together. I confided in him, too. I told him about an event in my life that I had rarely discussed, and which I am only now at nearly 50 years old ready to hash out all the way through as though my life depends on it, and in fact it may. I think that’s when I began to understand that not everyone is supposed to come into a life and stay there forever. I am not always totally at peace with it, but I believe it to be true. What I think I want or need and what IS may be very different things. It has taken a long time, but I’ve reached a place where I can acknowledge sadness that something is changing, or that someone is no longer in a prominent place in my life, and still know that this is how it ought to be. I speak of my life as a series of chapters. Some chapters are thick and spanning many years. Others are not nearly as extensive, but significant. Others still are a few pages long, and yet can still have tremendous potency, making a mark that lasts a lifetime. I wonder about Gary, if he’s still alive, if he has made peace with his demons. I hope he has found his balance, his center, and is soaring.