Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sexual Abuse

Brenda at age 5

According to Wikipedia, the Genogram, based on family systems theory, “is a pictorial display of a person's family relationships and medical history. It goes beyond a traditional family tree by allowing the user to visualize hereditary patterns and psychological factors that punctuate relationships. It can be used to identify repetitive patterns of behavior and to recognize hereditary tendencies.” (Genograms were first developed and popularized in clinical settings by Monica McGoldrick and Randy Gerson, with the publication of Genograms: Assessment and Intervention, 1985, now in its Third Edition, 2008.)
I replied to Jim, “I’m game. Oh, buddy, do I have a family system for you!”
The assignment directed us to ask a question (as a therapist would) which needed resolution in my life. I told Jim, “We’ll have to make up one because I’m in such a good emotional space about my life, I don’t have any problems that need answers at this time. The question I’m thinking of is genuine, I just don’t have a pressing need to answer it. It light of what I have lived through it seems a trivial thing to ask.”
The question: “Why, if I have little or no anxiety about public speaking, acting, dancing or teaching, do I sometimes have all-consuming anxiety when I sing publicly?  I’ve had as much or more training in vocal performance as any other skill.”
The methodology of the Genogram involves creating a family tree. For ease of illustration, let’s say the family tree has circles around all addicts, squares around all abusers, triangles around those who were abused, trapezoids around mentors and so forth. My family tree is a geometry teacher’s dream. We filled it all out and ended that session.
Jim returned days later. During the casual visit, we were sitting at the breakfast bar at my house on Summershade Court. He gently asked, “Tell me more about the aunt who taught you a song and prepared you to sing in public for the first time when you were five years old.”
An electric shock radiated from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I could barely form the words, “Oh my God, she also sexually molested me on a regular basis that same year.”
I have known this fact all my life. The path to the long, narrow, cold bathroom at Grandma’s house led between the pot-bellied coal stove and the cabinet where the black desk phone rested, number Harrison 48595. The click of the sliding bolt lock. My aunt telling me to lie down on the towel.
“I was five. I didn’t know I had a right to say ‘no.’ I didn’t suppress the molestation. I felt guilty about the incident all my life. And yet I pooh-poohed the significance of the actions and certainly did not name it abuse or connect it with singing. I excused her because she was just a teenager at the time. I thought it didn’t count as sexual abuse because she was female.”
Jim listened intently as I continued to think about the abuse. “I remember when I was studying voice with Dr. Noemi Lugo in the Nineties at the University of Kentucky. Something she said makes sense to me now.”
“Brrrrrrrrrrrrenda,” she would say rolling her R’s with delight, “you have this beautiful sound that you refuse to let out. For some reason it seems contained, locked up tight.”
“Now I understand when, where and who locked the door.”


  1. Oh, Bren, this one gives me chills. I know that horrific feeling all to well. I'm also learning that there are so many others, who are silent, and suffer these same 'locked up' emotions.

    I suppose for those of us who survive sexual abuse the locking of a door does not represent security and it never will.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. So true, so true. Sad that we share this horrible experience in our lives but glad they we have divided the sorrow by sharing it.