November 1, 2013

Rearview Mirror

Human emotions seldom function in isolation. I can't seem to find an apt analogy, but I see webs, ladders, perhaps colliding particles? Maybe somethings to do with tables and chemistry. I never seem to feel any one singular emotion at a time. There is always the blending from one emotion to the next. Sometimes they form bonds and move about us as compounds. Some light and airy, others heavy metals we can never seem to discharge.

I first began to notice the complex collision of emotions when I was eight years old.  Must have been the weight of these compounds that caught me by surprise. It started with shame. Even on its own much too heavy an emotion for a child to deal with, but this shame activated guilt, which quickly ionized into pain and fear. Even as my young heart was trying to contain this immensely volatile compound, I realized that it was merely a catalyst to a much more combustible bond of emotions-- anger and pain.

I buried this unstable chemistry within myself for most of my adolescence. No matter how heavy and confusing and painful it became, I felt strong enough to absorb it on my own. Because even then I was beginning to feel that the pain could transform into strength and the anger into the foundation of my personality. I was creating a defiant independence that would help me become the man I am today.

Three important things happened when I was seventeen. I found friends I could love and trust. I found alcohol. And I was finally able to release some of my pain, anger, fear, guilt, and shame. I realized that I no longer had to carry it all by myself. On those endless drunken nights beneath the moonlight, I told the others what had happened:

When I was eight years old my parents separated. It was traumatic and confusing.  I was too young to see it coming, and so had no idea of the cause. Like most children of divorce, I am sure I partially blamed myself. My dad moved into another apartment with his cousins. Two brothers who I knew as family friends. I can't remember if I was ever given a choice of who I would live with, but I stayed in our house, in my room with my mom. We would get a Spanish roommate named Pillar.

That same year, while I was in third grader in Ms. Wonder's class, I would spend some weekends at my dad's new place. For some reason, inexplicable to me now, I slept on the couch. I remember many nights falling asleep to MTV, Here Comes The Rain by The Eurythmics a song that remains a memento of those nights.

On some nights, it happen more than once, but I cannot tell how many times, the cousin would come in the darkness and touch me. He would lay next to me. Kissing me and forcing me to touch him. It was in this darkness where I first learned shame. I guess it was the beatings made me wise. I couldn't breathe, holdin' me down. Hand on my face, pushed to the ground. Enmity gaged, united by fear. Forced to endure what I could not forgive. After sometime, I told my mom and it stopped. He disappeared. There was some court dates. I saw someone. I think. It was vague and scary. Then it was finished. 

Some time later, my dad would accidentally drive our metallic green Volkswagon Bug off a cliff somewhere on Highway One. He would break his ribs, shoulder, neck and spend months in a hospital in Sebastopol. He came home to a new apartment and his parents wearing a halo.

He was not the only one who was broken. My childhood ended that year. I seem to look away. Wounds in the mirror waved. It wasn't my surface most defiled. I find it so strange to think that my daughter is only a year away from how old I was when all this happened. I cannot begin to think how she would handle any one of those traumas, let alone all three. I have done everything I can in my life to make sure she never has to feel the weight of my emotional chemistry.

But I felt it. For a long time. Even after I told my friends. I carried this secret with me everywhere I went. It wasn't just inside me anymore, it was me. A tumultuous battle between shame and anger. Soon I would begin to explore blame and for the longest time I assigned blame to everyone I could- my parents, the cousin, the world, and eventually myself. Why didn't I stop him? Say no. Stand up. I must have liked it I told myself, causing more shame. More guilt. This had to remain a secret. It had to be my fault it happened and so no one could ever know. My friends knew and that lightened the load, but no one else.

A few years later, I found a counselor. Someone who could voice these emotions. Who had been there. Felt the pain. Been abused. Been the victim. Had the scars, and had not only survived but was now telling me that the pain actually helped him. That the anger, the sadness, the shame all of it was not my fault and that if I could tap into it I could become a man.

I saw things, saw things, saw things, saw things: Clearer. Clearer. Clearer. Clearer. It was as if, there was finally a voice to the silence I carried with me for most of my life. I gather speed from you fucking with me. Once and for all I'm far away. I hardly believe, finally the shades, are raised. Saw things so much clearer. Once you, once you were in my rearviewmirror...

This was the voice of vindication. Of a rage so profound even though it was tempered and searing. It would bring the earlier emotions to a boil and break them down only to build them up again into something new. This music was proof that I would not only survive, but I would flourish and grow. I would shine. I would love. Myself. Once and for all I knew I would be okay.

It was this song, this music, this band that saved my life and allowed me to become who I am today. This is no hyperbole. To this day, I feel my core shake when I hear these songs. Go ahead. Take a break. Watch the video above.

It's funny to this day, beside my few close friends and my wife, I have never shared this story with anyone. There is still the taboo of talking openly about abuse. There is still the shame of exposing one's trauma to the world. A fear that someone, somehow might blame the brutal victimization of a child on the child himself.

But here is what I have learned: These emotions, shame, guilt, anger, pain, sadness were never meant to be carried alone. They are too dark and heavy,  too dark to let fester beneath our skin. Abuse can create great artists- Bukowski, Cobain, Elliott Smith and many more, but the average person is not doing himself any favors carrying the burden alone. There is a sense of relief that comes from letting go.

People sometimes commend me on being honest in my writing. Which is funny, because I have always kept this back. Afraid. But I finally felt it was time. Not because I want your pity, but because I hope that this revelation, this release might help someone else gain strength.

I chose to make my way through the trauma on my own. I struggled through so much anger and pain and alcohol and whatever else to get to where I am now. I don't regret a thing, and I know everyone needs to find their own way, but perhaps someone out there reading this might not feel so alone. Someone might listen to Rearview Mirror and exercise their own demons. Someone might choose to write away their suffering and turn sadness into art.

original image by Paul Watson

Remember that art in general and writing in particular gains force by how it empowers both the producer and the viewer. The powerful part of writing and sharing is the connections created, the communication it fosters. This post has helped me lighten my load. I have been able to unburden myself and finally let go of my shame. It is an amazing feeling to watch into dissipate into the Internet.

So please, if this post has moved you, if it has empowered you, or helped you in anyway, please share some thoughts in the comments. We are not alone in our pain. Also, if you think there is someone in your life who might benefit from some of what I have shared, please feel free to pass this post along.

Life is beautiful because of the pain and the sadness in it, not despite it.

Last Note: I want to thank my parents. I know they are very sensitive with what I share online and I know that this might freak you both out a little bit, but I wanted you to know how much I love you both and I no longer blame you for anything. Although, I wrote about these traumas, I had an amazing time growing up and I love myself, the life I have created and the person I have become, and I could not have done it without you and all your love and support.


  1. Jabiz,
    I respect your courage and sincerity in sharing this while acknowledging that if we didn't so often silence such stories which I suspect are tragically more common than we think, such courage would not be necessary, and such shame would not be felt by the abused. I empathize with your story and its enduring impact upon your life, for better and worse. As Gibran often wrote, it is only from the depths of our sorrow that we may thus know the greatest heights of joy. It is an honor to be but one recipient of your story and to share our humanity through it. Peace.

  2. Jabiz ... For me, this post is haunting - I have such ghosts in my past, and my eldest is the same age I was when it happened. The heavy emotions have been 'contained' and yet sometimes they seep out. Tonight, reading your story I am torn by so many emotions. I want to thank you for the courage to share. It will inspire me to find such courage (for my kids' sake). Peace.

  3. I cannot say much Jabiz beyond a simple but deepest heartfelt thank you. Honesty to the world is one thing, but honesty to the self is bigger. Thanks, thanks, thanks for being in and of this world.