Witness

Laying The Burden Down

I guess it is time for me to come out of hiding. It has been a hellish period in many ways, but I think I have finally turned a corner. So I am peeking out and coming up for air.

It is often difficult to explain a descent into the underworld to those who have not been blessed with a visit, but I kind of expect that those that bother to read my rants are somewhat familiar with the terrain.

I went down. Or rather, I came up. Or … I have been on a hellish journey.

Sometimes I feel like I need to say the following words as preface to my storytelling -- None of what follows is metaphor.

“I’ve been ‘buked, I’ve been scorned, I‘ve been talked about sure as you’re born.”

That is a refrain from a song by my friend Evelyn Harris, formerly of Sweet Honey in the Rock. It is a refrain that can be sung by most black women, yes. But for me it spoke volumes.

Sometimes, there is a terror so deep, it can take almost 30 years to build up enough strength to face it. Over the last several months, I came face to face with such a terror.

[…breathe] … In the mid seventies I was a member of a group infiltrated by the FBI’s counter intelligence program otherwise known as COINTELPRO. Their usual tactics included seeding dissension and causing miscommunication. In the movement where I was a member, they created a climate of fear and paranoia. This produced a whirlwind of violence, hysteria and endless purges.

Because of my PTSD, I am no longer sure of exactly when it happened. Let’s just say that the year was either 1975 or 1976. I think it was during the month of October.

So […breathe] … in October of 1975 or 1976, I was beaten, tortured and abandoned in an industrial area overnight somewhere in New York City.

That sentence above says it all, but it says nothing. I have shared this information before, most notably within the pages of Modern Pagans. But what I had not shared was the sheer impact of the abuse and just how young I was emotionally. Whenever I have shared this story, I always made sure to say it matter-of-factly, so as to appear tough and strong. What I was hiding was just how terrifying it was to be left out in the dark, hundreds of miles from home, with god knows what scurrying about in the darkness, and left alone by people who only days earlier had been my family, clan, kin and comrades.

In some ways it was a relief. I had already suffered countless hours of terror and physical abuse, where the psychological aspects of the torture were in fact the most painful and long lasting. Followed by hours of being locked up in a dark room filled with weeping and bleeding victims. I was finally rousted up and dragged from the room by the very people who had accompanied me from DC. I was thrown into a car and driven to an unknown location where I was even threatened for daring to look out a window along the way.

I stood in the darkness, in shock, watching as the car pulled away. At least the torture and accusations were over, that is how I initially felt. Then the stark reality dawned on me that I had no idea where I was and I had nothing to defend myself. I spent the night crying, huddled on a bench under a flickering streetlight, shivering with fear. I had money, but I was so traumatized, I was afraid to call anyone from the lone phone booth less than a hundred yards away.

When morning finally came, the dark shapes receded and revealed an industrial area filled with skulking warehouses. The day light also revealed just how desolate and unforgiving my site of abandonment had been. Slowly the area began to crawl with life, and a shuttered low building became a greasy spoon catering to the early morning denizens of this place. I bought some food and got up enough nerve to use the phone booth.

I did what any frightened child would do; I called my mother. Coming from a family of psychics, my poor mother had been up all night – she knew one of her children was in danger. A bit later, after the ghetto network of my family was activated, my New York cousin, Mary, called me back. Less than two hours later, I stepped off a transit bus into her welcoming arms and was on my way to her home for a bath and meal.

Over the next several months, I was suicidal, depressed and listless. It was during those months of despair that I made my unholy vow. I had somehow decided that in an incident where I had clearly been the victim (along with countless others), that it was all somehow my fault. Not the fault of the people who abandoned me in the darkness, or the fault of the people who had beat me, tortured me and betrayed my trust. No. I had obviously done something to deserve such brutality, I had failed and so I steeled myself to never fail again.

And so I shut off my outrage, my anger, my fear, my grief, and my terror -- I toughened up.

But over these past several months, all that toughness dissolved within the supportive container of my coven, my healers and my dear, dear friends. And I let it all go and I finally broke down. I finally experienced all of the terror, grief, and outrage I refused to feel all those years ago. I am in fact still experiencing it. And so it has been difficult to write, read, sing, dance, eat, sleep, walk, talk or even breathe without triggering thirty-year-old memories of sheer terror.

And yet … still I write, read, sing, dance, eat, sleep, walk, talk … and yes breathe. Because I have already given those brutish cowards more than thirty years of my silence … they will get no more.

And so I visit with my younger self often, and I sit with her in that dark and tormented place. I hold her in my arms and keep vigil throughout the night. Her pain and terror is real. I can still feel it in my flesh every single day.

And so today, I open my mouth and I say … I’ve been betrayed, I’ve been tortured, I have been abandoned, I’ve been raped, I’ve been abducted, I’ve been dragged out of my bed at gunpoint, I’ve been stalked, and I’ve been sexually abused by a Catholic priest. I say out loud all the pain I have been carrying in silence.

And so, as of today, I refuse to carry the shame and guilt that should have been carried by those gutless cowards. Yes, I have survived, but only just barely in many ways. Today, I will not toughen up. I will not soldier through. I will not walk it off. I have simply let go of a burden that should have never been mine in the first place.

Today, I may be mad as hell, and my heart is clearly broken. But being angry and broken hearted is not a detour, a distraction or a defect. My soul’s journey often seems circuitous even to me, but I am growing and healing with every step. I am not off the path; this is my path. And as Evelyn sang all those years ago, “I’m just going to keep on moving on.” My path, my journey continues.

Thanks for listening.
©2008 Katrina Messenger

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Sat, 05/03/2008 - 3:53pm.

A Daughter’s Love

I loved the film, Like Water for Chocolate, but when I emerged from the theater I was sobbing.

My friend Benito assumed I was crying because of the death of the lovers. He was trying to explain the mystical quality of Latino symbolism as a way to ease my sorrow. But that is not why I was crying. I was crying because I had recognized myself as the doomed younger sister.

I had not stayed at home to care for my parents, but I had never strayed to far from them, living less than 10 miles away for my entire life. Several of my brothers were far flung, but I stayed close … just in case they needed me. And as a result I became tied down, anchored, tethered to the madness of my childhood.

Oh how I had longed to run away, to break free from the binds that tie. And not once had it occurred to me why it was so hard for me. Watching that film answered that life long question. I had not strayed because as the youngest daughter, it was my responsibility to care for my aging parents.

That film opened my eyes.

And so my tears were of grief, shock and deep, deep rage.

And so to Benito’s surprise, I was inconsolable.

These past weeks I have watched another daughter struggle with the same resentment, rage, anger and grief. It breaks my heart to see her in such pain. But this time, the stakes are higher. She has been diagnosed with cancer and is struggling to find some room within that clinging web of duty for the life saving acts of radical self-care.

But how do you make peace with the screaming voices inside your head when for your entire life, day after day, you were inundated with selflessness, invisibility and silence?

I know from personal experience just how warped your sense of self can become under such an onslaught. Every act of turning inward is treated as a betrayal of trust, as an act of rebellion or as a declaration of war. How do you find yourself within this swirling web of lies? How do you learn to see clearly enough to remove the heavy blinders from your own eyes?

A counselor gave me a clue many years ago. He said, ”Katrina you could not be selfish if you tried.” His admonition shocked me. I thought I had been so selfish and self-centered, how could that be? It made me step back and re-evaluate my entire perspective. If I “could not be selfish”, then why in the world did I believe I had been?

And that began my journey back to myself and back toward self-care. I am still on that journey.

And so this past week, I sat with my dear, dear friend. And I looked into her grieving and frightened eyes. And I said to her the words that had shocked me all those years ago.

“ You could not be selfish if you tried.” And I watch as she too begins the path toward her self. And this time, I will be there reaching out my hand as this sweet, sweet woman finds her way home. Because although I loved the film, I would rather she find her freedom on this side of the veil.

©2008 Katrina Messenger

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Sat, 01/12/2008 - 1:28pm.

Buying a Vowel

My brother called me late last night. And although he said initially that nothing was the matter, he then proceeded to tell me just how hard his life has become lately. He seemed surprised that he was admitting this all to me on Thanksgiving just minutes before midnight.

And he laughed the entire phone call.

He said with what he was up against, that crying was not an option. His words seared into my heart and by the end of the call I too found myself laughing. And when he eventually hung up, I too found it impossible to cry, I was so heart sick, I was past tears.

I wandered blindly around my kitchen compulsively reaching for food till it hit me. The reason my brother called me minutes before midnight on Thanksgiving … is because I am the only person who he can tell the truth about his life. And at the moment, his life is fucking impossible. And that brought me back to brink of tears again, only much, much deeper. I fell asleep finally on the verge of sobbing.

This morning as I lay in bed, I thought about all the people in my life where crying is not an option at the moment. There is too much coming at them and it looks like it is starting to speed up. My brother is facing heart stopping stress, backbreaking work and utter exhaustion to hold off complete financial ruin … and he is losing the fight. My friend K is facing a life threatening illness with very slim chances of fending off having to make a terminal choice. And my friend S just buried her father and has to fly home to the west coast while leaving her grieving mother on the east coast. And then there are the myriad of friends facing hard choices about what to do with their ailing parents who increasingly need almost constant care.

Everywhere I look, I see loved ones facing some very hard choices and looking desperately for some new options, some alternatives to what seems like impossible choices.

And so today ... For my brother, my friends, and people suffering everywhere who may feel sometimes that crying is not an option … I pray to the gods. I pray that the tightness loosen, and that the rough areas recede. I pray for sweetness and joy to fill their lungs and heart in whatever way brings them some respite. I pray for concrete answers to desperate prayers. I pray for forgiveness and resolution. I pray for compassion and miracles. I pray for lightness and real laughter that eases away despair. I pray for divine intervention and love. I pray for second chances and fool’s luck.

Today, I pray that in this hard, hard world of constriction, restriction and limits, that my tears, my real and welcomed tears on their behalf, will give them what they need to buy a vowel.

Posted in

Submitted by katrina on Fri, 11/23/2007 - 10:46am.

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Recent comments

  • Nephthys (not verified)

    I've been with Firefly for a number of years, I recently left my position at The Firefly Community to pursue other dreams but to be clear how much I was involved before I address the statements made, I was a teacher, Priestess, member of the Inner Circle of the Council of Elders, Course Contributor, Clergy, Delegate and Divination reader so I was quite involved with Firefly on many levels.

    I am offended by your statement that Firefly is cultish. Given my involvement as listed above I can safely say that Firefly members are not cultish in behaviour nor is Firefly cultish in of itself. I am no longer involved with Firefly in any strong capacity other than that of a student so I can also safely say this is not coming from a blind faith position. I will be the first to admit that part of the reason I left Firefly was because I did not agree with some of the changes Lady Iris intended to make, that being said, I don't support the idea that abuse should be turned into a political statement.

    I don't know Sean and I am not close to Lady Iris (I live in a different country) and have not commented on the situation with her marriage but some of his behaviours are reprehensible. If a President did this he would be impeached and booted so I fail to see why it should be ignored and relegated to 'personal marital issues' when behaviour like this is indicative of larger psychological issues. If Sean Bennett is allowed to use and abuse women in this fashion, eventually he would work his way through the single ladies in the OHF and what would you be left with?

    1 year 32 weeks ago
  • Virginia Carper (not verified)

    I for one have been pondering this question. Iris did highlight a valuable point - how are checks and balances established to prevent potential abuse and to air concerns. These are hard lessons that groups need to learn.

    Without denying people their agency, how do you set up a system that will prevent abuse by other members? How far does a group go to ensure the mental and emotional safety of the adult members?

    For example, I know with my disability (brain injury), I would deeply resent being told that the group is looking out for my best interests. It would seem to be paternalistic on the group's part to assume that I cannot fend for myself. But because of my disability, I can be easy prey for a con-artist. How do you solve a dilemma like that? Can this be encoded or is this sort of thing too nebulous to pin down?

    1 year 33 weeks ago
  • Virginia Carper (not verified)

    I have a traumatic brain injury.

    That being said, I got caught in the cross-fire in the Firefly Campaign, since I did not get with the program - i.e. Firemoon was abused by a sexual predator, who for the sake of the community had to be removed. I was shocked at how this mantra was repeated over and over everywhere it could be. I was shocked at how the Firefly folks did not identify themselves as they sought to achieve their goals. It left a poor taste about Firefly in my mouth since I started to regard them as "cultish", incapable of independent thought or discussion. Also it disturbed me how the Firefly folks who had nothing to do with DC, carried water in the campaign as well.

    Since I had lot of free time, I researched the consistent posters and everything I could find, and an disturbing picture arose. The one you described of a one-sided campaign to achieve a stated end, without proper identification or perspective.

    As for the brain injury - I got raked over the coals for making light of the issue from an avowed healer, who thought my injury was a ruse. That scared me into thinking that perhaps my impression of the "cultishness" of the Firefly group was true. (I know cult is a loaded word, but I cannot think of the word that would indicate a group of people, emotionally inflamed with one mission in mind, and not allowing any dissent.)

    1 year 33 weeks ago
  • Kali Firemoon (not verified)

    Katrina,

    I am so sorry that we have not met yet since it so obvious from your comments that you are a close personal friend of Iris’s and know all there is to know about the situation from a front row seat. I mean, after all, one who has seen a woman four months pregnant, losing weight and physically appearing to not be pregnant would of course understand the emotional, and yes, physical stress she was under. But of course, since you were there I don’t need to remind you of that. So lets move on to the rest of the story, you know where her husband chose to have unprotected sex with someone else, who I am sure was a complete virgin and posed no risk to mother or child, and then husband went home to engage in carnal activities with his wife, confident that his unborn child was never at risk. Yes, I am sure that all of your female students understand why you are firmly in the husband’s court. After all, it’s always the woman’s fault when marriages go bad. Or at least that is what I seem to glean from your article. Yes, I am Firefly, and I was one of the one’s chosen to help this woman after she was victimized by this predator who seems to have persuaded the pagan community that it is acceptable to treat not one, not two but at last count four woman as though they were simply a means to his end. And BTW I know she attempted to alert the community to her situation and apparently no one felt it worth even a cursory investigation. Oh yes, one more example of us not wanting to rock any one’s boat. I will tell you that in response to her story, several other pagan women have come forward with similar stories of abuse reported to the male members of a community met with similar disdain and an obvious desire to hide this type of behavior. Do I believe it happened this time, yes; do I believe that this community is willing, no matter the cost, to hide this type of behavior, yes. No one wants to call attention to the pagan community because we already have an undeserved stigma. But that does not mean we should allow behavior none of us condone simply because we are afraid of controversy. If one of us needs be sanctioned, then we either stand and sanction or accept the stigma so many would place upon us. We need to “police” our own. When four and probably five women come forth and tell the same story of predatory behavior against women we either act or fold the tents and go home. So I suggest you talk to all of them before you post any more pontifications. I also realize you can never post this but we both know you will have read it.

    1 year 33 weeks ago
  • Cara Schulz (not verified)

    Hello Katrina,
    Although we know one another, mostly online but also when we met at Sacred Harvest Festival, for your readers let me note that I'm the Managing Editor of PNC-News and the Co-Editor of PNC-Minnesota. I was the primary author of the PNC-News statement that you are writing about.

    The persons who contacted me asking when PNC would cover this were not Firefly members. Most were not local to DC, but were Pagans and polytheists in other parts of the country who had donated to the Pagan community center in DC and naturally had an interest in it. Why would they contact me? Because I'm the Managing Editor and people often contact me to ask if PNC is covering a story or to request that we cover a story. That's how we get many of our articles - through our readers.

    As for why PNC-News put two different situations in one statement, it's because they are related in nature and both needed to be addressed promptly.

    If anyone has any questions, we encourage them to contact us and ask them.

    1 year 33 weeks ago
  • Kat, Emralde (not verified)

    Thank you for this perspective. I very much appreciate the voice of the elders as I struggle with my own (not-voiced) feelings about this situation and its outcome.

    1 year 35 weeks ago