August 2, 2011
I was thinking about the implications of many generations of abuse. My facebook Ubi, who lives in the Phillipines with her mother and verbally abusive father, asked me if my family came from a ‘defective soul factory.’ I said no, my parents are both the products of many generations of abuse. My mother is the third generation of abuse victims in her family of origin, dating back to her grandfather’s experiences in czarist Russia.
My mother remembers her father, my maternal grandfather Joseph Weinberg, continually yelling at her and her sister Margie. My late aunt Margie even wrote an essay in school about her father when she was around 9-10 years old calling him “the shouting man.” When my grandpa died, my mom said that her father shouted at her mother so much that she didn’t even realize her parents loved each other.
I watched my grandpa die in front of me and was so grateful that I had the opportunity to say goodbye in person to him. Once she made the decision to pull the plug on my grandfather, my grandma sat there tenderly hugging and embracing my grandpa, stroking his head and telling him she loved him. My mother was shocked by her mother’s expressions of love and tenderness toward her father.
I remember the way my grandma tenderly said goodbye to her husband, but my maternal grandpa constantly expressed love and affection toward me in emotional and physical ways. I felt loved and embraced by him in a way that I have never felt from my own father. I was grandpa’s oldest grandchild, and he treated me with a special degree of love, tenderness, and affection. He used to take me to get Doritos and lemonade after school at Morrison’s when I was in first and second grade. When I was in high school, he used to pick me up from school so often that my classmates thought he was my father. Seeing my grandpa’s white Toyota in the parking lot, more than one classmate informed me that my dad was there to pick me up. He also used to go running with me and being a physical ed teacher, he used to constantly also encourage me to swim and exercise to keep my body in shape. Grandpa also had a great sense of humor, and after his death I made an album where I kept a picture of grandpa in his underwear. When I went away to Brown University for my first semester at college, grandpa used to call me every week without fail to ask me when I was coming home. He also used to send me a postcard that said,”I love you. I miss you.” Every single week.
Unfortunately, I don’t think my mother received the same degree of love and affection from my grandpa that I did. She also remembers clearly how her grandfather used to verbally and emotionally abuse his wife and daughter. My great-grandfather Abraham Rosen verbally abused his wife, my great-grandmother, and his daughter, my grandmother, through constant intimidation and screaming. My grandmother thinks that men should abuse women and that a marriage is abnormal if the man actually respects the woman. My grandma thinks that because she grew up watching her mother being abused by her father and also suffered emotional abuse at the hands of her father. My grandma was born in the United States in 1918, but her parents were born in Belarus in the 1890’s. My great-grandmother was born in Minsk around 1895 or 1897, and my great-grandfather Abraham Rosen was born in Vitebsk in 1890. My great-grandparents came to America separately as teenagers. They met in America and married here.
My great-grandfather Abraham Rosen fled from his father, who was a cantor or chazzan in Vitebsk. The official story is that my great-grandfather ran away from home because of an ideological disagreement with his father, because my great-grandfather was a socialist and my great-great-grandfather was an Orthodox Jewish clergyman. And indeed it was quite common in late czarist times for Jewish youth in the Russian empire to embrace socialism as an alternative to the virulent anti-Semitism of the last two czars Alexander III and Nicholas II. Alexander III ruled from 1881 to 1894, and Nicholas II ruled from 1894 to 1917. But given the way that my great-grandfather abused his own wife and daughter, I believe my great-grandfather ran away from home and fled to America because he was trying to escape emotional abuse at the hands of his own father.
My father was the second generation of his family to suffer horrendous emotional abuse at home. My dad was severely brutalized emotionally by his mother, who rejected him from birth because he was most likely the result of an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy. My dad’s mother also had a tragic childhood. Her mother died when she was only six years old, and she was temporarily placed in an orphanage by her father. My dad’s mother spent her whole life grieving about the fact that the orphanage took her clothes away from her when she was six years old. And my dad’s mother was also severely beaten by her step-mother, and thus she suffered a horrifically abusive childhood. I feel sickened by the cruelty that my dad’s mother suffered as a child, but I am also outraged at the way that she brutalized my dad.
So I am the product of 100 years of abuse dating back to czarist Russia on my mom’s side of the family. I am the fourth generation to be abused on my mother’s side of the family and the third generation to be abused on my dad’s side of the family. So I am overcoming the legacy of 100 years of abuse on both sides of my family of origin.
My dear friend Kareem Amer in Egypt, the former political prisoner who served 4 years in prison and suffered horrendous child abuse at the hands of his Wahhabi radical Islamic father, is also the second generation in his family to be abused. Kareem told me how his grandfather had suppressed his father by forbidding him to study theatre at university and forcing him to study agriculture instead. His father in turn reacted to being forcibly suppressed by his own father by adopting radical Islam as his ideology. His father imposed his radical Islamic ideology upon his wife and children by force. His mother and sisters were forced to wear the niqab, a full body face covering which only shows the woman’s eyes. His sisters were also subjected to female genital mutilation and then married off at young ages. Kareem never saw his sisters again after they were married off.
Kareem’s father and four brothers are adherents of the Wahhabi radical Islamic ideology. Kareem renounced Islam, declared himself an atheist, and also spoke out forcefully against the radical Islamic oppression of women and Christians in Egypt. Kareem was arrested and imprisoned for four years because he challenged the Egyptian regime’s treatment of women and Christians. After his arrest, his father and four brothers publicly disowned him and called for his death, G-d forbid. Kareem is considered an apostate under Islamic law because he has renounced Islam, and therefore under Islamic law he is automatically subject to the death penalty. He has received death threats from radical Wahhabi Muslims. But thankfully he is protected to some extent from the harassment of radical Muslims by his relative prominence as an Egyptian dissident and most of all by the support he receives from Western democracies.
Last night my emotional turmoil continued. After finishing my writing around 12:30 a.m., I went downstairs to eat and tried to go to sleep at 2 a.m. Unfortunately, I continued to vomit and realized I would not be able to go to sleep easily. Accepting the reality of my inner emotional turmoil, I decided to spend the next 1.5 hours from 2 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. conducting scholarly research on statistics about emotional abuse and on child abuse issues in the Arab world. I found out many important things such as the fact that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who took the throne in 2005 and has sought to challenge radical Islam in his country, is also attempting to tackle child abuse in Saudi Arabia.
As I lay down to try to fall asleep, I found my stomach burning intensely from constipation and from grief and anger and sadness about my history as an abuse survivor. I was able to go to the bathroom with some struggle, but physically and emotionally I didn’t feel comfortable. I know that this is from the abuse in my past and not from anything going on in my present life, but still the feelings of depression and despair are hard to cope with. I was frustrated that I did not fall asleep until 5:30 a.m.
I was also haunted by the feeling that I have failed in my life. I saw the reports about high school graduates who were headed to Brown and Harvard to major in international relations, and I remembered how calm, confident, and secure that I felt when I was in that position. I thought that the world was my oyster and that as soon as I had left the abusive home environment behind, I would begin to flourish. I never would have dreamed in my worst nightmares that my college experience would prove to be more devastating for my self-confidence than the six years of abuse in high school and middle school at home and at school. I never imagined that my dreams of a successful future as a Russian studies professor would be brutally shattered in my freshman year of college by a confrontation with a powerful Russian history professor.
I made the mistake of publicly challenging this professor in class for his support of Stalinism, and not knowing I was not allowed to do this, I had my career completely destroyed. After receiving a B in this course where I knew as much as the professor, I realized my dreams of a Russian history professor career were finished. In retrospect I now know that I made a mistake because of my profound social skills deficit or Asperger’s. But I continue to feel that the price I was forced to pay, the destruction of my career, was far greater than the mistake I made.
I discovered to my deep sorrow that the main skill needed for an academic career was the one skill that I have never been able to master: the ability to read social cues. I was stunned to learn that my intellectual skills were considered a liability, not an asset, in the academic world. I thought that academia was about intellect, and now I realize that actually intellectual skills are irrelevant in the academic setting. I am continuing to mourn the destruction of my academic career dreams although increasingly I am accepting this situation with a sense of peace because I have come to understand that my vision of academia does not correspond to reality.
I am realizing that perhaps I have another destiny intended for me as an intellectual advocate for emotional abuse and domestic violence victims, particularly in the Hispanic community in Miami. As I continue to write about my experience, I am coming to embrace my destiny as an advocate for emotional abuse survivors. I know that the only way I can redeem my experience as a survivor of 35 years of severe emotional child abuse is by helping other survivors. I cannot change what my parents, academics, and business employers have done to me. I cannot undo the horror of 17 years of rejection in academia and business for reasons beyond my control. But I can use my experience to help other emotional abuse survivors, and I can use my Spanish language skills and comfort with Latin American culture to conduct research with people at the University of Miami to help design programs for abused Hispanic women and children here in Miami.
And in the past month, lacking Internet access, I have been filling up journal after journal with my thoughts, feelings, and experiences about abuse. I realize that I am in fact writing a book about my experiences as a survivor of emotional abuse. I am hoping to publish this book in order to help empower other survivors of emotional abuse and domestic violence, particularly among my fellow Jews. I can’t wait to share my experiences with the board of directors at HOEF and begin writing and speaking on the topic of emotional abuse.
I also hope to write and speak on from my horrendous personal experiences in the office setting about the terrible disabilities associated with having a neurological social skills deficit called Asperger’s. I want to show other people with Asperger’s that you don’t have to subject yourself to the horror of the office environment in order to make a living. I want to demonstrate that actually a person like myself with Asperger’s is much better off not working in the office setting because success in the office environment depends entirely upon the one set of skills that we Aspies lack: the ability to read social cues.