Nietzsche Was Wrong
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." ~Friedrich Nietzsche
It sounds good, and it's easy to say to people who have just experienced disaster in their lives. However, as much of a fan as I am of Nietzsche's work, he was wide off the mark on this one. Obviously, he never experienced true disaster in his life.
I'm not talking about things like having a parent or a child die, not to trivialize those experiences. I've had both, but society is configured to help us in these matters. All of the support mechanisms are in place to assist us through the grieving process. Also, we live with the understanding that things like this are possible. So while horrifying, our minds are able to eventually make sense of what happened.
Such is not always the case with crime victims. How can a second-grader possibly make sense out of the fact that his parents were extinguishing their cigarettes on his rectum? What chance does that child have a normal life? Did this child become stronger because of the experience? This actually happened in Des Moines, Iowa and based on what his teacher says, the idea of normalcy for this child is far-fetched.
In my case, the sexual and physical abuse began when I was three and continued until I was 11. All my memories of it were repressed, and what followed was the horror story that I call my life. For 42 years nothing worked for me. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and outbursts of rage undermined what seemed like a very promising future. I knew something was broken, and I tried every way possible to fix it, but to no avail.
In 1992, at the age of 37, all those memories came out and I suffered a complete breakdown. Over the next three years I lost everything; my family, my job, and my home. I was hospitalized multiple times because I was suicidal, and it would be 14 more years before I found treatment that could alleviate the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex trauma that had dogged me for four decades.
I finally found Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR), and after a year virtually all the symptoms of PTSD were gone. Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of it for me; my work to recover was only beginning.
I had major resentments against the people who had committed these crimes against me, and I had to invest a large amount of effort in learning forgiveness. I also had to learn to be grateful for what I had, which sounds easier than it really is. Sometimes I would look back at the train wreck of my life caused by childhood sexual abuse and PTSD, and all I could do was sit there and cry. I was 54 years old, and 50 of those years had been a total disaster.
But the rest of life doesn't stop just because you're working hard to put things back together. A year after I completed therapy I was well into my forgiveness work. Then I got a phone call telling me that my daughter had died. I was devastated.
What struck me about my reaction to her death was I intuitively understood that the emotions I felt matched the circumstance. It may have been the first time in my life that my response was appropriate, given the events around me. It was an indication that maybe, after 54 years, my life
was becoming normal.
I disagree with Nietzsche on his point, because what doesn't kill us can leave us a quivering mass lying on the floor, unable to tend even our most basic needs and bodily functions. I've been there, and there are still ghosts that haunt me to this day, although they continue to fade.
That's what it's like to be a victim of violent crime. Millions of people in this country have had similar experiences. As a result, many of them landed in prison, and more occupy mental institutions. Then there are those you know who seem fine when you look at them from the outside, but they are never quite able to get their lives in order. The next time you see one of these people, ask yourself what might have happened to them.
Childhood sexual abuse is a devastating crime with long-term consequences. In the United States today one in four females and one in six males are sexually abused before their 16th birthday. If it was the flu it would be considered an epidemic. It's time for people to stand and speak on behalf of these victims, because many of them lost their voices years ago in the midst of a horror that you can only imagine.
You can find links to Larry Wohlgemuth's book in both e-book as well as print format on his website. Please visit him at http://www.larrywohlgemuth.com/.