my life is a *trigger warning*
notes on surviving ritual abuse
sanity is the opposite of normality
my counsellor used this example:
imagine a circle. at the top of the circle, the two ends do not quite meet. one end is sanity, and the other is normality. although they are near to one another, and they seem similar, they are in fact the opposite ends of the spectrum of mental health. they are contrary to one another. the bottom of the circle, facing the empty space that separates sanity from normality, and equidistant from both, is what is known as “insanity”.
going from sanity to normality, a person will move through a period of “insanity” (such as being socialized into patriarchy or homophobia). similarly, someone who is “normal” must move through insanity in order to reach sanity – whether this is rejecting racism, and white supremacy, internalized oppression and/or internalized privilege, or working through issues of childhood abuse to reach a place of self-love and self-respect where they are profoundly connected to their own humanity and the humanity of others.
the process of therapy, or counselling, or healing, is one where an individual moves from normality, or insanity through to sanity. many adults, maybe most adults in Canadian society, are on the normal side of this spectrum of mental health. this is not a judgement of them. it is the reality of how we are all socialized by imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, heteropatriarchal institutions and cultures. mainstream culture coerces us into dehumanizing ourselves, whether this is through racial oppression and white privilege, denying that plants and animals are sentient beings that deserve to be treated with love and respect, or sexist oppression and male privilege. asserting that some human beings are less worthy of respect and dignity because of their race, nationality or gender, or that plants and animals do not deserve respect requires that the victims of oppression, the oppressed, be dehumanized, devalued and degraded. it also requires that those human beings who are engaging in oppression dehumanize themselves. It is impossible to hurt, abuse, torture and oppress others, without first dehumanizing oneself.
for those lucky people born into loving families, they learn to love themselves and others, as well as animals and mother nature. due to the fact that we are all born into a society based on oppression and dehumanization, this healthy sense of self is under constant pressure, and it is lamentably inevitable that everyone will experience oppression and trauma over the course of their lives. sanity in an insane society is under siege, and cannot simply be enjoyed, we must struggle for it, and the struggle must be collective. the up side is that the struggle for mental health is a deeply humanizing one, and it is not only absolutely necessary at the level of each individual, but also in resistance and revolutionary movement as a whole.
some terminology and context:
i am a survivor of ritual abuse. i live with have post-traumatic stress, and dissociated identities, both of which are considered “mental illnesses” or “insanity”. i have also been diagnosed, incorrectly, with paranoid schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and my psychiatrist has told me that he thinks that my diagnosis should be changed to bi-polar disorder.
i say this in order to be clear that i am someone who is labeled as “insane” or “mentally ill”. in this blog post i will be using various terms to talk about mental health, including sane, insane, crazy,mental health, and normal or normality. i want to be clear that I am using these terms descriptively, and non-judgementally. i also want to be clear that I am often not using them in the ways that they are typically used. finally, because of the connotations i am concerned that i may accidentally use certain words in ways that reinforce ableism. i also talk about other forms of oppression, and i might get things wrong, or say things that are ignorant. if you find this to be the case, i would greatly appreciate it if you send me a message so i can listen to your concerns, and change my thinking and writing accordingly.
when i am using the term sanity, i am, first of all, not saying that sane people are superior to others. i also don’t believe that symptoms such as elation, depression, psychosis, irritability, hallucinations, etc. are “insane” in the way the word is typically used. i see them all as reasonable, understandable, even brilliant, methods that people use in order to survive and cope with their experiences and traumas.
i also use the word “sane” to describe when someone is deeply and lovingly connected to themselves, other people, animals and the natural world. This is my definition and understanding of what genuine sanity is.
sanity is not static – people aren’t permanently sane, or permanently crazy, and their sanity is effected by their life experiences. for example, someone who is sane might experience some kind of trauma which they are not able to cope with psychologically. this would then push them into “insanity” – psychologically, theirsense of self-worth and/or safety have been compromised and, until these feelings return, they will find (creative and amazing) ways to cope with their trauma. these might include depression, alcohol ordrug use, psychosis, or any other number of coping strategies.
when i talk about insanity, i use the word with the understanding that we are all “insane” sometimes. i have been insane, or crazy, by my own standards, and by psychiatric standards on many occasions, and i do not devalue myself because of this, or other crazy people, and our experiences. in fact, i think that insanity and the insane have a great deal to teach us about what it means to be fully human.
normality is what is commonly considered to be sanity. Normality might also be described as functionality. can a person function? can they hold a job, a marriage, friendships? can a person function in this imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist heteropatriarchy? if so, they can be considered normal, and therefore, they must also be sane. sane in this framework means not displaying too many, or too obvious, anti-social tendencies, or symptoms, even while leading lives of quiet desperation and despite the fact that they are inadvertently engaged in oppressing themselves and others.
this is not what sanity truly is, though: adjusting to an insane situation, to an insane society may be necessary, but it requires people to become somewhat insane in order to get by. an analogy: some people are incarcerated for so long that they are no longer able to function outside of prisons. they have so thoroughly adjusted to the rules of the prison, rules that are profoundly oppressive, that they can’t, or have great difficulty, living in the comparative freedom of the outside world.
we live in an insane society. not only that, but we live in a society where each individual is engaged in a low-intensity conflict with the outer world in a constant struggle to stay healthy and human. our collective insanity is necessary in order to continue to ignore and deny the emotional and spiritual wasteland that is canadian society. we live in a society that puts the interests of a tiny minority of extremely wealth people (the ruling class, which is alsooverwhelmingly white, male, able-bodied, “sane”, heterosexual, etc.) ahead of the very lives of the rest of us. we live in a society that values power over other human beings, animals and the environment, and making a profit above all else. one of the most glaring examples of how profoundly dehumanized ruling class people are is madeleine albright’s 1996 statement on 60 minutes that the deaths of 500, 000 iraqi children, the result of the US led sanctions on iraq that were intended to destabilize saddam hussein’s regime, were “worth it”. it is difficult to think of a more inhumane statement. what is more, the united states help was instrumental in saddam’s rise to power in the first place. sadly, although such blunt statements of the utter lack of morality of imperialist politics are rare, the policies and practices are not.
Madeleine Albright defends the murder of 500, 000 iraqi children
We Think The Price Is Worth It: media uncurious about iraq policy’s
effects – there or here
by rahul mahajan
Oppression, and the consequent dehumanization of both oppressor and oppressed is not a rational or logical process – no rational person would choose to sacrifice their humanity for the illusory pleasures of domination, oppression, control and wealth. In this sense, in the sense of being irrational, or illogical, oppressions are a form of insanity. They are belief systems, and despite all of the intellectual gymnastics that apologists engage in, the reality is that these oppressive systems are anchored at the emotional level, not through reason. although oppression isn’t rational, it can make sense emotionally.
a starting point for anti-racist consciousness, for example, is to acknowledge that racism is real, that people of colour are oppressed by it, and that white people are racially privileged. one of the main reasons, maybe the main reason, for the widespread denial of the reality of racism by white people is so that white people can a) benefit from an unconscious feeling of superiority and b) avoid feelings of guilt and shame. this is to say that the racism, and other forms of oppression, exist because of emotional “needs” (they aren’t real needs, such as food or shelter, but they can feel like they are), not because of
logical or illogical arguments.
From White Racist to White Anti-Racist: The Lifelong Journey
it is equally clear that there are material benefits to whiteness, however, for most people, this is not where their loyalty to whiteness stems from. certainly, at the level of policies and institutions oppressions, such as racism, can and are used strategically to divide people from one another, in order to maintain a system of power over others, and to make it easier to exploit and super-exploit workers for economic gain. again, this is, i think, different from people who are unintentionally complicit with oppressive systems. in this blog post i am focusing less on structures created by the ruling class (this will come later) than on people’s emotional and psychological commitments to oppressive belief systems.
as valuable as facts, figures and statistics are when talking about different forms of oppression, what is really needed is to find ways to connect with people at an emotional level. we are fighting belief systems that are irrational, and that exist in order to fulfill emotional, political, economic, and cultural interests. certainly, we need to argue rationally, but just as important is to be engaging in healing work with ourselves, and others, to be working at the emotional level, as well as the intellectual level.
“Belief systems resist change, sometimes vociferously and aggressively….
What is the belief system behind the aggressive vociferous denials of ritual abuse torture [ or the oppression of transgendered people, or the historic and ongoing genocide of indigenous people]? I believe that this is a refusal/incapacity to see/entertain just how brutal our social system has been and is….
But in my experience, no amount of evidence can defeat a belief system. No matter what evidence is offered, there will always be vociferous and aggressive denial of ritual abuse torture, or, as the history of psychoanalysis shows, the reality of childhood sexualabuse, full stop.”
Ritual abuse and mind control: the manipulation of attachment needs,
josephscwartz, pg. Xv
the satanist cult that i was born into is one of the most extreme examples of child abuse imaginable. however child abuse is widespread in canadian society, from the most horrific examples, such as ritual abuse, to more common acts of abuse within the heteropatriarchal family, to abuses at the institutional or policy level, such as massive child poverty, or the removal of indigenous children from their families and communities and their placement in white, or non-native families.
“Child sexual abuse teaches us lessons about power- who has it and who doesn’t. These lessons, experienced on a bodily level, transfer in to the deepest levels of our conscious and subconscious being, and correspond with other oppressive systems. Widespread child sexual abuse supports a racist, sexist, classist and ableist society that attempts to train citizens into docility and unthinking acceptance of whatever the government and big business deem fit to hand out (Kadi,73).”
“Child abuse is incredibly prevalent in the united states [and canada], and ithappens on all levels of society, regardless of ethnic or economicstatus. Parents, relatives, community leaders and other adultsphysically, sexually and emotionally abuse children. Many are alsovictims of neglect. In 1996 more than three million reports of childabuse were made in the US, and “the actual incidence of abuse andneglect is estimated to be three times greater than the number reported to authorities” (Childhelp USA)….
One in three girls and one in four boys is sexually abused before theage of eighteen, and children with disabilities are four to ten timesmore vulnerable to sexual abuse than non-disabled children.”
The healing journey as a site of resistance, by billie rain
“All sexual abuse [and all abuse] is damaging, and the trauma does not end when the abuse stops. If you were abused as a child, you are probably experiencing long-term effects that interfere with your day-to-day functioning.
However, it is possible to heal. It is even possible to thrive. Thriving means more than just an alleviation of symptoms, more than band-aids, more than functioning adequately. Thriving means enjoying a feeling of wholeness, genuine love and trust in your relationships, pleasure in your body.”
The courage to heal: a guide for women survivors of child sexual abuse
by ellen bass and laura davis
a society that tolerates and is complicit in the widespread abuse of children, a society that permits the vivisection of animals, that initiates industrial projects such as the tar sands, that engages in the mass incarceration of people of colour and indigenous people, is not a sane, or rational, society. And it is not facts, figures or logical argument that is going to change these realities, or the belief systems that help keep them in place
what does it mean to be sane in an insane society? for many the answer lies in conformity, or normality, which mimics sanity, but is only it’s mirror image. normality can provide social acceptance and, maybe, material wealth, but at the price of personal integrity, emotional wholeness and self-fulfillment. it is, in fact, impossible to be sane in any meaningful sense, and to believe and participate in what is defined as a normal life by mainstream institutions and cultures. examples range from the extreme, such as non-natives (mostly, or entirely, whites) hurling rocks at defenseless indigenous (mostly mohawks) men, women and children trying to return to their reserve during the oka crisis, to the popular, such as recent songs justifying rape and date rape, to the mundane, such as the online comments sections in sun newspapers (and other corporate and state media).
Rocks at Whiskey Trench:
Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ Dubbed ‘Rapey,’ Hit Song Under Fire From Critics:
Rick Ross thinks Rape is a Punchline:
the reality of living in an imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist heteropatriarchy is that our sanity, our humanity, our selves are engaged in a constant low-intensity conflict with mainstream institutions and cultures. naturally, this creates a situation where we are consistently in conflict with others, and ourselves. given this contradiction, it is not surprising – it is to be expected – that many people suffer from “mental health issues”. Indeed, how could we not? our natural human drive towards goodness, compassion, decency, love and loving connection are in a never ending contest with the oppressive institutions and cultures that prioritize taking power over others, dehumanizing them (and necessarily oneself as well) and to making money before all else.
our urge to survive is powerful, and faced with the contradictions of Canadian society individuals will find numerous ways to cope. Examples from how ritual abuse survivors cope with the massive traumas that they experience, often on a daily basis, can give us a glimpse of just how creative, strong and brilliant human beings can be in looking for a way to survive in the most adverse of situations. A common response by people experiencing ritual abuse is to create dissociated identities. they create new selves, personalities and identities in order to forget certain traumas, or to remember survival methods. if the child being abused survives, then, later, after these identities have formed, or disintegrated, they can also, given a safe and welcoming space, reintegrate, and become whole once again. it is truly remarkable, and it is a beautiful example of how flexible human psyches are in their drive not only to survive, but to preserve their decency and human dignity. less extreme examples of trauma or psychological difficulties yield a broad range of responses, from elation, to depression, to psychosis, to denial and forgetting, and much more. as canadian society has become increasingly inhuman, the number of people experiencing (or diagnosed with) mental health issues has, not surprisingly, increased. there are, certainly, other factors, such as disabled peoples’ movements which have challenged the stigma and the silence around mental health issues, and there is also a correlation with the growth of the medical-industrial complex, as capitalist industry has found a way to make massive profits from “mental health”.
sanity is not static, and it does not exist in a historical and geographical void. sanity exists, in opposition to normality, and linked with “insanity”. insanity, being, simply, the method that the human mind uses to cope with pressures that it cannot, at that time, resolve. and, despite the growth of a massive and highly profitable mental health industries and the propaganda that they put out, the solutions to our individual and societal insanities are not to be found in individualistic prescriptions to just be better people, or in relying on pharmaceuticals, but rather in collective healing and collective struggles for a saner, more just, and more humane world.