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On baring your soul

Here in Niceland there’s a current affairs programme called Kastljós that is on after the news each day. It’s had its ups and downs, but with the current crew on board it is almost always excellent.

Not so long ago, they did a series of interviews with grown men who as children were placed in a home for ‘young delinquents’, in Breiðuvík on Iceland’s West Fjords. The ‘delinquent’ part was often questionable – in some cases it was just a matter of things at home being less than ideal: single mother, alcohol abuse, poverty, etc. The place was ghastly – completely out in the middle of nowhere, they were kept there as prisoners, their phone calls were listened to, letters read, they were locked up in a terrifying isolation chamber for minor offenses, and subjected to horrible abuse by the sadistic couple who ran the place, as well as by other staff members and/or older children.

When the first man spoke up, years later, his story seemed too outrageous to be believed. Then another came forth, then another and another, until there were so many of them that they had to be taken seriously. For days and days Kastljós ran interviews with individual men speaking about their devastating experiences. Each time I sat riveted in front of the TV, shocked into silence, amazed at the courage it took for these men to speak up. Not least because it was such an obvious ordeal – many of them broke down in front of the cameras.

Then last Sunday, Kastljós ran an interview with a woman – Linda Drake – who seven years ago wrote a book under a pseudonym about sexual abuse she’d had to endure as a child. It was the first book written in the first person to address the issue in such a forthright manner. The man who abused her was a police officer, and when she went to the station – along with her sister – to press charges, the officer on duty more or less refused to help them. It was a very moving interview, particularly because she has managed to turn her life around and is now unafraid to appear under her own name and speak about her experience. She has shed the shame that she had been made to carry.

Nonetheless, she described the overwhelming fear she felt when the book came out – because her family would know it was her, and people would see her, and know what had happened. She imagined that some sort of catastrophe would happen, the sky would come crashing down, something. But nothing happened. Except that she felt better. And she liked the fact that people could see her – see her – and know what had happened. She was freed from her fears.

In the comments to the last post, Gary wondered whether I was still finding it as difficult to post about the events in my past as I did initially. That made me think a bit, and I realised that I felt a lot like the woman on the programme – this feeling that something catastrophic would happen if I spoke the truth in a public forum [I had been speaking about these things for years, of course, just not publicly], that fire and brimstone would rain upon my head if I actually opened my mouth. But nothing happened. Except that a lot of people sent me messages of love and support, and validated my feelings, and said that they could identify, and that what I wrote had helped them. In short, I gained a lot – and lost nothing.

It’s crazy, this fear of speaking the truth. But logical. When you live for a long time in a dysfunctional system, where a lot of people have a vested interest in everyone conforming to the rules, the messages are incessant: keep your mouth shut and do not rock the boat. They may be overt or covert, and the people in the system sometimes don’t even know they in it, or that they’re perpetuating it, like the fish who don’t know they’re wet. And those who choose not to conform [because they can’t], who love that which Goethe calls the ‘one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans…’, and who decide to follow that truth, are often cast out, become the black sheep of the family, are dismissed. And sadly, they often get trampled underfoot. Because not everyone is tough enough to make it outside of the system. Particularly when they are children.

Anyway. Old news, I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, or some variation thereof. What fascinates me now, though, is the seemingly newfound willingness of the black sheep and the underdogs to bare their souls, to come forward and speak out – en masse. And I am heartened – nay, thrilled – by the fact that these people are not condemned as they would once have been, but are listened to, believed, and even celebrated.

It may be too soon to hail this as the salvation of humankind, but positive change is definitely afoot: since the Breiðuvík revelations the Icelandic government has set up counselling centres for anyone who was placed in any of those horrid, heartless homes run by the state. I’m also sure Linda Drake feels like a winner, secure in the conviction that her story has helped others and may even help deter potential abusers, because if victims become accustomed to speaking up, the perpetrators will be the ones living in fear. Who knows, slowly but surely the crazy backwards dysfunctionality of the systems may be turning around.

… it is also turning around. That horrid wind we had all last week has dissipated and now we have lovely, spring-like weather. Well, except for the snow we woke up to this morning. Pseudo-snow, really. It only stuck on the ground for an hour or two, and then the sun came out and reminded us that spring is just around the corner. Right now it’s 1°C [34F], sunrise was at 7.05 and sunset at 20.03.