"A warrior's heart...She don't try to hide the ecstasy. Cuz she's stronger than you see."

05 July 2013

Freedom Letter

She's crazy as anyone can be
That's what they say, they say of me
What wanting love can make some do
Isn't my fault,

Standing on the outside, 
State of grace, state of sin 
Sheryl Crow On the Outside

Content trigger warning:  The following post speaks plainly on the subject of sexual abuse, specifically, sexual abuse that happens within families for generation after generation. It deals head on with the longterm effects that occur when a child is sexually assaulted by a family member and then raised within a family-enforced code of silence.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, particularly if family was involved, please pause to reflect on whether this content might be a trigger for you. 

For those who choose to read on, my hope is that these words encourage you in your healing journey. This letter, which I call my freedom letter, is what I wrote and sent to my family less than a month ago, and so I raise a glass: To healing and to living in the full light of truth. Blessings to all.

Freedom Letter

Dearest Family,

Grand- and great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, mother, fathers, sisters, cousins; Bertocchinis and Schusters all; both living and departed. Each one of you is someone I grew up with, and whether elder or age mate, nuclear family or extended; a family member by blood or by virtue of marriage; each one of you has borne children into this family and so each one of you has a part in the story I’m about to tell.

Most of you know, if only by way of family gossip, that I deal with clinical depression and a bipolar disorder. We don’t talk about these things in the family, at least not my wing of it. All the same, I’m guessing that I am not the only one who takes medication to keep depression in check. Additionally, I battle post traumatic stress. The cumulative effect of mental illnesses and PTSD is debilitating enough that I live on disability, a state that carries some shame. I continue to work with doctors to heal what can be healed and to manage those deficits that will be lifelong. We all have deficits and burdens we carry alone, and mine are no more important than anyone else’s. What is important, what is worth sharing, is this: the originating trauma, the thing that broke me, is something that happened within our family. 

Beginning at age four, I was sexually assaulted, repeatedly, by no fewer than four people, none of whom were strangers to me. One was a trusted family friend. Two were immediate family members. Of those two, one is still alive. 

I know that some of you are feeling the shock of what I just said; you didn’t know, and you didn’t see this coming. I also know that some of you are shocked that I said it at all. You are among those who knew-- absolutely you knew, though you ignored and eventually managed to “forget”-- that family members used me for sex. I am not the only child in this family who was abused in this way; this is a secret we have all kept. 

Had I been someone else’s four-year-old or, better, kidnapped and held in the basement of a sex offender, the family’s reaction to my pain would have been outrage. The sexual abuse harmed me, there’s absolutely no question about that, but it was the isolation-- the emotional shunning from my family-- that was the true and lasting trauma. On the surface I was cared for and loved: good food, warm house, nice clothes, good schools, regular bedtimes and rules, hugs and “I love you”s. All those things were real, and I benefited from them. This was also real: I was allowed the expression of absolutely no emotion that was unapproved: no sadness, no fear, no needing closeness or reassurance, no anger, and certainly no talking about these feelings. It’s one thing to have your abuser threaten you with, “Don’t tell or....” It is quite another to have those who love you enforce that code of silence. 

On this point I want to be very clear. The isolation I experienced wasn’t simply painful or pervasive. It was absolute and immutable. I was expected to be a pretty dolly in a glass case. Perfect; hollow. It is this harm that has had the most lasting effect. 

Emotional and psychological development weren’t the only things affected. My neurological damage is this: a brain that was formed in an environment of trauma, specifically, a child’s brain that grew and developed in the potent neurochemicals that are released during trauma. So while it is true that I now have mental illness and other deficits, I wasn’t born this way; I was made. 

Why am I telling you this? Simple. I need to be done. Done not only seeing the elephant-- ALL the elephants-- in the room but also being the elephant in the room. Done seeing the effects of abuse perpetrated on other family members and having no way to stop it. Or prove it. Done pretending that everything is fine, that I am normal, that I have a job, that I can support myself, that I function well. I am not normal. Some days I function only barely. I am mentally ill and physically compromised, and I was not born this way. I was crippled by a family legacy of intergenerational sexual abuse and a code of silence. 

This is not my burden to bear alone, though I have done so until now. I don’t know what any of you will do with this information. I don’t know whether you’ll believe it or deny it, let it help you step forward in your own struggles or let it fall by the wayside, and it doesn’t matter. I have already been called crazy. I have already been told that what I know couldn’t possibly be true. So, believe as you will. This much I know for certain. The more I deal with the origins of my illness, the less suicidal I have become. The more I deal with the original trauma, the less chronic pain I have to bear up under and the less medication I need. Best of all-- and in many ways, saddest of all-- it appears that I am not, in fact, bipolar. All the craziness that is the hallmark of that illness has an external source, as it turns out, an originating trauma, and the more I deal with that trauma the saner and more balanced I become. 

There is no good way to end a letter such as this. So I will sign off with love. You’re all family to me, each and every one, and I value that connection. In far too many ways I feel I have never had a family connection, not truly, but I hang onto the kinship all the same. Must be all that Italian blood.

Wishing you well,

aka, writer of SinsoftheEldestDaughter


Google: sins, sexual abuse, sexual assault, mental illness, PTSD, complex PTSD, trauma, childhood neglect, psychological abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, incest, long-term effects, adult survivors, family, sex offender, depression, bipolar, chronic illness, disability,

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com 
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from its creator.

08 November 2012

What Ails Us // Coming Back to Life

Dear Sweet Readers,

I have missed you. I have missed my muse, missed the sound of the words she sings, missed the song I call The Rapture, and now... now I miss the man who started it all, but that’s another story, one I will tell when the time comes.

For the moment, what I can tell you is that I have been on a healing hiatus. Unforeseen and unannounced, as most of my absences from life have been, it has lasted a year and a half. It was that long ago that I began The Rapture. I managed six chapters in six months and then.... It is a flat earth I live upon; it is so easy to fall off the map.

And so it is that I find myself here, a year since last I posted on Sins of the Eldest Daughter. It was a short post, two lines and a song, both dissolving into dust. It was all I had in me.

I tried to compose a note explaining my absence, some missive from the front lines, swaddled in plastic, pinned to the inside of my combat helmet along with a cherished photo. It couldn’t be done.

What got me here today, writing at last, was reading an article in The Sun that deals with the subject of chronic illness. Mired in a slough of chronic conditions, I have been soldiering on for decades now without destination or relief. So when I read that Dr. Gabor Maté “observed that those who had experienced trauma, stress, and anxiety at a young age tended . . . also to have more health problems,” I sat up and paid attention.

[Dr. Maté] saw the roots of [our] problems in “adverse childhood experiences,” such as abuse, neglect, poverty, or parental stress. At a time when medical science [is] increasingly looking to our DNA for the source of many illnesses, Maté was becoming convinced that experiences in our early years play an even greater role in brain development and behavior. The emotional patterns we learn as small children, he says, live on in the cells of our minds and come back to us as adults.
What Ails Us

Here’s how that translates for me. My nonstandard neurology-- for that’s what I call this conglomeration of mental illness and chronic pain diagnoses-- may be the result of a brain repeatedly traumatized while it was yet developing in my child body. Think of three-legged frogs and two-headed fish; the acid bath that is the womb of a polluted childhood yields a deformed adult. “The genetic explanation [of chronic health problems] is comfortable,” Maté says, “because it means that we don’t have to look at people’s lives or the society in which those lives are led for the source of our problems. If addiction is genetic,” for example, “we don’t have to worry that it’s connected to child abuse.”

Two years ago, I began my work with a psychologist who is among those pioneering in the field of PTSD. He specializes in the physical and psychological fallout-- the chronic illness-- that is a result of something called Complex PTSD. Because my PTSD events comprise the first couple decades of my life, give or take, and stem from childhood sexual abuse and neglect, the recovery work involves tearing myself down to the foundation of my being, demolishing that faulty structure, and rebuilding a stronger, more balanced sense of self from the just-a-twinkle-in-your-daddy's-eye stage up. It's interesting work. And by interesting I mean it has messed with my life in ways that, were I not possessed of a social scientist’s abiding curiosity about the emotional and psychological ramifications of cause and effect, I would never have taken on such a task. It has eclipsed everything: work, writing, relationships, social life, sex, self... everything.

It is amazing the poisons my subconscious has coughed up in an effort to clear my airways and breathe me back to life.

Challenges aside, I am happy to say that I’m at a point where my doctor all but guarantees a full and complete recovery. It's still painful, believe me, and I have no idea what recovery looks like; I can’t see it from here. Regardless, I hope to be back to writing The Rapture soon and to posting blog entries even sooner. But that’s not what’s important Here’s the most important part: You. All 47 million of you. You are the reason I show up in my jammies and lipstick to play strip poker with heart, body, mind, and soul. You are the reason Dr. Maté’s words struck such a cord in me. I write about myself, it’s true, but it is not my life that hangs in the balance.

Let’s look at the numbers.

As of the day I wrote this, the population of the US according the United States Census Bureau is 314,703,310. Let’s make that a nice round number: three-hundred-fourteen-million-seven-hundred-thousand.

Of the 314,700,000 people in the US, twenty to twenty-five percent of the population WILL BE sexually molested, according to The National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. Let’s use the smaller estimate of twenty percent. That gives us 62,940,000. Did you read that right? Of all the Americans on the planet today, nearly 63 MILLION were sexually abused as children.

Three-quarters of all molestation is perpetrated by family members and other trusted adults-- coaches, neighbors, men of God-- people who are within what is called the child’s “circle of trust”. That leaves us, very conservatively figured, at 47,205,000. That’s well over 47 MILLION adults who have experienced the trauma of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of someone they trusted. Seems I am not the only wounded child warrior here.

And what about PTSD? Five percent of men and over ten percent of women in the US live with PTSD. On average, we’re looking at 2 1/2 million people with this diagnosis. That’s still an awful lot, though, so let’s cut it down: 47 mil, give or take, divided by 7.8% (the PTSD population on average) = 3,666,000... Wow, that’s creepy-- I was just ball parking it-- but the Devil, as they say, is in the details. Moving on.

Complex PTSD-- the minefield my psychologist is helping me to navigate-- is a new field of study that looks at an old but mostly unrecognized problem: the results of long-term trauma, the kind trauma that spans years. Shell shock, we used to call it. Here’s what the US Department of Veteran Affairs has to say:
What types of trauma are associated with Complex PTSD?
During long-term traumas, the victim is generally held in a state of captivity, physically or emotionally.... In these situations the victim is under the control of the perpetrator and unable to get away from the danger.

The traumas that the Dept. of Veteran Affairs includes in this definition may surprise you. They range from the obvious, external hells like concentration and POW camps to the hidden hells of childhood sexual abuse and physical abuse. Physical captivity isn’t the only kind that cannot be escaped. Pioneers in the field of Complex PTSD also include extreme emotional neglect, “the kind of neglect where no caretaker was ever available for support, comfort or protection,” (see Pete Walker’s article Emotional Flashback Management in the Treatment of Complex PTSD).

And there it is, my particular brand of fucked up childhood: pretty blonde-haired, green-eyed Barbie on the outside, gooey with greasy, grimy gopher guts on the inside. This is foundation of my being-- the reason for, the cause of-- why I keep wandering astray and falling off the edge of this flat earth. This is the death of a thousand cuts-- the effect-- that slowly cripples us, making us crazy or criminal or cut throat. And this is why I am writing. I write The Rapture not because it is my story but because it is everyone’s. Or at least 3,666,000 of you. Give or take.

Once upon a time these millions of numbers were children, kids who wanted to be heard, who needed protection, who wished they would die or could get revenge or, most glorious of all, be spirited away in the arms of some loving and all-powerful being. In the end, isn’t that what rapture is all about, being safe in the arms of someone who loves us? Isn’t that what we imagine healing to be, that kind of love, that kind of peace?

Well, The Rapture-- my Rapture-- isn’t going to have a hell of a lot of peace, but it will end with love. Eventually. First the sin and the sex and the sadness. For what ails any one of us, ails us all. If you can’t believe in that, then believe this. In its most recent study,
the CDC estimated the lifetime cost to society for dealing with all issues related to the... abuse of just one year's worth of traumatized kids [at] $585 billion.
The National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (NAASCA)
Cost is measured in many ways. In my life, it is measured by the years I spent in what psychologists call a severe depressive episode. That was a decade and a half. Give or take. Cost is also measured by the intermittent winters I spend on the far side of the moon, that place long past the edge of this flat earth. This last winter lasted a year and a half, and I feel no closer to sanity now than to the sun.

But I am alive. And I am writing. And your stories are what I aim to tell. So, until next time, I leave you with the dreamscape sound of a song entitled “This Healing Dream” and with the words of Rumi.
Go within.
Hear the story of sunrise from the Sun itself.
If there were no sunrise within
I would have set
long ago.

~ Rumi

“This Healing Dream” - Sunday Club
All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter (dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com)
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.


Google: trauma, childhood neglect, psychological abuse, physical abuse, contact sexual abuse, incest, chronic illness, long-term effects, PTSD, complex PTSD, What Ails Us, deformed, DNA, addiction, sins, the rapture, flat earth, adult survivors, millions

01 November 2012

Emotional Flashbacks Complex PTSD/ What Ails Us

Watch this space, people! The resident blog bitch is about to be back. Somber, serious, sassy, and soooo ready to crack the whip. Till then, take a look at what I found on the Island of Misfit Toys. A handbook, if you will, a how-to manual for the fatally fucked up. Read on: Emotional Flashback Management in the Treatment of Complex PTSD

Emotional Neglect: A Primary Cause of Complex PTSD?
... I was surprised that a number of clients with moderate and sometimes minimal sexual or physical childhood abuse were plagued by emotional flashbacks. Over time, however, I realized that these individuals had suffered extreme emotional neglect: the kind of neglect where no caretaker was ever available for support, comfort or protection. No one liked them, welcomed them, or listened to them. No one had empathy for them, showed them warmth, or invited closeness. No one cared about what they thought, felt, did, wanted, or dreamed of. Such trauma victims learned early in life that no matter how hurt, alienated, or terrified they were, turning to a parent would actually exacerbate their experience of rejection.The child who is abandoned in this way experiences the world as a terrifying place. I think about how humans were hunter-gatherers for most of our time on this planet—the child's survival and safety from predators during the first six years of life during these times depended on being in very close proximity to an adult. Children are wired to feel scared when left alone, and to cry and protest to alert their caretakers when they are. But when the caretakers turn their backs on such cries for help, the child is left to cope with a nightmarish inner world—the stuff of which emotional flashbacks are made.

30 October 2011

Dissolve /TheRapture, ch.6

Still falling
Breathless and on
Till my hand shook with the weight of fear
I could possibly be fading
Or have something more
to gain

Mazzy Star
(Bill Voila, art)

When pain is what you’re accustomed to the touch of tenderness is terrifying. And so for my sins, that’s what God gave me.


16 September 2011

Hell Above the Water /The Rapture, ch. 5

I am never relaxed
Even when I say I am
I’m always on the alert
Looking for the problem...
I flirt with guys
But they don’t get me
I think I’m ready to kill
The next person
That doesn’t fit [me]

Hell Above the Water

Swinger, addict, married man, monk
Smoker, toker, stand up guy, drunk
Twelve stepper, white knuckler, government grunt
Past child molester
Present memory forgetter
Bringers of promises, trophies, sorrow, laughter
And carriers:
chlamydia, scabies, herpes, and venereal warts - oh my!
These are the men, the men who have moved through my life.
For them I am friend, lover, mother, sex slave, wife.

Age mates from school, a father figure or two, cougar cubs - oooh!
These are the men who have loved me, the men who have
believed in, beguiled, belittled, and sometimes beat me. One cheated
for and another on me. One till-death-do-part’d me. One
plucked me up off the street for a Wham, bam, thank you ma’am
and a wink. One marched off into battle, another ran
to sit chanting at the feet of masters. These are the men,
the men who have bedded me, sexed me, caressed me with
hands schooled in childhood hurts and worse. For them I am
sometimes savior, sometimes bitch. I am stand up, bend over,
film noir, doggie style, climax screamer, pillow
crier, and witch.

I am all of these things
I am this and more
It’s hell above the water
Hell above the water...


I was so very young when I learned to submerge. I’m good at it. And when I say I’m good at it, I don’t mean I’m good at holding my breath. I mean I can breathe water. It’s survival, baby, learned behavior. It’s evolution.

Actually, it’s disassociation - that’s what the psychologists call it - which is a twenty-dollar word for Elvis leaving the building while he’s still in it. Denial, disassociation, doing the over-controlling bitch dance, these are all defense mechanisms designed by the body/mind to circumvent the mushroom cloud response to what shrinks call “overwhelming emotional distress”. That’s another coupla twenty-dollar words for things that are so disturbing to consider and so very fucked up to experience that we disappear them. Or ourselves.


Denial and disassociation, these are the magic wands of life; the magic that lets the show march on like Innocent Erendira, her sleeping body walking with eyes open, talking with mind shut, bending over lying down standing up; sex. Erendira’s sexual servitude began at the hands of her grandmother. She was fourteen. Mine began at the hands of a grandfather. I was four. And although I made the memory vanish, I was never able to deny the claim that pleasure has on my body. Or pain.


The body fucking in spite
of pain, fucking around
the pain, through the pain, in-
to the pain; harder, faster, wilder, riding the pony pain;
breaking it
in the pleasure of climaxing in pain. I never wept
but spent a decade drinking
cheap wine and peeing blood. In the emergency room
I sat shivered in splinters awaiting the benediction
of one pill, two pill
red pill, blue pill.

Good sex, bad
sex, sex with the slippery nail jack-
hammering; coercion, perversion, passionate embrace, fucking
in haste; fumbling, fondling, force. Lifelong
sex has bound me: hunter hunted hostage.
This sing song, song
singing a pornographic Dr. Seuss rhyme; this
magic in my head, this playful, painful, angry, stoic
lullaby; this poetry for liars, lovers, the men
whose secrets I keep; this song of pleasure
and pain, I can’t deny. It’s me.
Raised by a drunk and a slut, I learned early 

to keep my clever mouth shut

And the chorus sings:

I got no reason to say a thing
got no reason to say a thing
‘cause you don’t scare me at all
no no no no no no
no no no no no no
no no no no no no
no no no no no no

What I know is pain. What I can withstand is pain. What I can count on is that each road to pleasure will, ultimately, wind me sweetly back to the unbearable brightness of pain.

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from its creator.

17 July 2011

And There It Was /The Rapture, ch. 4

I looked at the psychologist and said, “He kept saying, 'But what if. What if the 17-year-old you did go?' He kept trying to make it into a different ending.”

It had happened in a nice restaurant where I was wearing beautiful dress sitting next to a handsome man - my lover - and I was angry but didn’t realize it.

“He said my life was tragic.”

The psychologist said, “Your life has been tragic.”

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission.

30 May 2011

Wild Horses /The Rapture, ch. 3

Childhood living
is easy to do.
The things you wanted
I bought them for you...
You know I can't let you
slide through my hands ...
I watched you suffer
a dull aching pain ...
I know I’ve dreamed you
a sin and a lie...

Faith has been broken,
tears must be cried 

Wild horses couldn't drag me away
Wild, wild horses, we'll ride them some day
The Rolling Stones

The worst part about the worst thing, is that there are ALWAYS things that can be worse. Are worse. And there are always worse versions of your personal worst. My personal worst. There is an unending supply of things that are worse than the worst thing any of us have experienced. So, to my way of thinking, the challenge is to nod in acknowledgement, like strangers passing on a night street. The nod that says, I see you. The nod that says, Your face is imprinted upon my mind like the redness of the naked sun upon my eyes. The nod that says, So don’t even fucking imagine you can hurt me.

That’s how I handle my memories of my worst days. I don’t compare. Comparison just suggests that I have not suffered enough. Suggests that before I can call out my demons and name them aloud, I must prove I have gone through the worst of the worst. As a society we tend to honor only the worst of the worst. We tend to label. We tend say, to so many we say, Stop complaining. It could be worse.

What is, exactly, the difference between complaining and naming? What is the difference between naming and blaming? What is the difference between blaming and simply calling out?

I was just out of graduate school and working for a jury consulting firm when one of the very first sexual abuse suits was brought against the Catholic Church. How many years of abuse had occurred before the day of that trial? How many children? How much of their experience was labeled as complaining? How many adults violated as children were labeled as sinners blaming the Church?

Things have changed since that ground-breaking trial, a trial I was lucky to be a small part of; the consulting firm I worked for told the plaintiffs to go full steam ahead, the Church be damned. By the end of the mid 1990s, not long after that lawsuit, more than half a billion dollars had been paid out by the Church in jury awards, settlements, and legal fees. That was in the United States alone. That was a decade and a half ago. And the lawsuits just keep coming. So, has the worst that could happen to the Catholic Church happened? Did things change?

I have a friend who spoke with certainty in her voice when she said to me, “It’s different now. No one believes sexual abuse is okay.” But I disagree.

If we thought sexual abuse was wrong, we wouldn’t be blaming the Catholic Church. And the Boy Scouts of America. And that creepy man down the street whose wife runs a daycare. If we thought sexual abuse was wrong, we’d be willing to talk about this one little fact: incest comprises the bulk of sexual abuse that is committed. Notice I said committed, not reported. Here’s what I told my friend: If we thought it was wrong, there would be no sexual abuse.

But here’s the rub. Wikipedia tells me that incest is sexual intercourse. You know intercourse, right? Most of us call it fucking. My American Heritage Dictionary tells me that incest is a “statutory crime” of “sexual relations” with a “near relative.” It also tells me that sexual relations means intercourse.

So, it’s not incest if he uses his mouth? his hand? mine?

So, it’s not incest if it’s a cousin I’ve never seen before? How about a cousin I know but who is once removed? twice removed?

While we’re doing definitions, how about this one. Statutory crimes are not taboos so much as laws against things we say are taboo. Like that 18-year-old punk down the street who’s fucking your 16-year-old, fully-consenting daughter. That’s statutory rape. Which we enforce at will.

Like I told my girlfriend, if we truly believed sexual abuse was wrong, we’d be looking for abusers where they hide in plain sight. Families. My family. Maybe yours.


When you are sexualized young, there is no innocence, there is no childhood. When you are sexualized young, what remains of innocence is only the ritual, much like wine is the ritual replacement for the blood of Christ; a prayer and a priest saying it’s holy doesn’t necessarily make it so. Even God knows this. God especially knows this.

I’ve thought a lot about innocence. Sexual innocence. I remember being a child, and later a teenager, and knowing when what I witnessed was innocence. The eleven-year-old girl on the playground hanging from the bars and twisting her legs, saying “This feels good.” I watched with the other girls who pretended not to notice - I mean you may KNOW it feels good, but for God’s sake you do not SAY it feels good - and I knew. This girl was innocent. I could feel it. I wanted it.

In junior high, my best friend told me about her and her boyfriend as they explored their sexuality. Not too much. Not the body grinding details. But she told me enough for me to see two things. Her innocence. And his thoughtful response to her innocence. I wanted to be able to be her in the worst way. On my very worst days, I would say to myself what if. What if I were that kind of girl? But I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. I couldn’t even imagine being. For a girl sexualized before she could even read, achieving innocence would be akin to unbreaking the spirit of a wild horse. What’s done is done.

When you come early to things stuffed into the crevices of your small body; hard things; soft things; when you still feel those things in your mouth, though you can’t say why because your mind doesn’t remember even though your body stubbornly does; you train yourself to feel around them, like horses trained to race around barrels. You learn to move as if they aren’t there, flowing at high speeds with agility and grace, slowing down only long enough to miss what blocks your path to the goal. You perform.

I spent my childhood performing innocence. And performing sex acts I couldn’t stop from happening. Thousands of Catholic boys and girls have spent thousands of years performing innocence. Or worse. Moving on to perform the same ritual of abuse performed upon them.

See? There are worse things. Always.

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from its creator.