Sara Whitman

Barbed Walls

Filed By Sara Whitman | August 05, 2009 6:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: coping skills, illness, LGBT families

I watched the curtains move silently with the ocean breeze. They are worn, having decades of sun bleach away the once colorful daisy pattern. A testament of perseverance, I could take a lesson from them.

window.jpgMy sister is having her surgery on Thursday and hearing the certainty, I broke down. I don't want to lose my sister. I don't want her to be so frightened, nor do I want her to be drugged to a point of not caring.

She is a little, terrified girl facing yet another barbed wall to climb.


I see my own life, flush with beautiful things, magnificent doors opening at every turn, and I can eye my past with a deep sigh of relief.

Never again.

And yet, it happens over and over again to my sister. Perhaps that is why she believes in god. All the pain and suffering get handed over to a higher being- it's god's will. Which is why I cannot believe in god- how can such a all powerful being let horrible things happen to children? Adults, well, maybe we've earned it in some unknowing way but not children.

We were children. My father's sickness may torture him to his death but we weren't broken until he came along.

Why does my sister continue to suffer? And I do not? It reminds me of a friend of mine. Someone shattered by abuse who continues to live a life full of pain. Friends die, cancer appears, over and over, she walks up to barbed wall after barbed wall, as if the goal in this life is simply to survive.

There have been times I wondered if she sought out the pain, the familiar repetition, the allure impossible to resist. If it hurts, it's real. If it doesn't, then it will, so why wait?

I don't see my sister doing that. I see her repeating a pattern, desperately waiting for new results. Someone to love her, be kind to her, be a knight in shining armor to take all the scars away.

No one can do that for you, I have said to her. You have to do it for yourself.

It is an odd place to be, as a survivor of abuse. You have to heal yourself, ultimately. Only you can confront the voices that lull you into believing you deserved it, that somehow pain is comfort.

Love. Pain must be love because why else would anyone have ever done that? It's a child's reasoning that never goes away.

How did I find a place to be safe enough to quiet the gun-toting suicidal voice and let good people into my life? It sounds like survivor guilt but it isn't- more of a wonderment. Maybe it was my mother's love; she did love me as much as she could- I know that. It wasn't always enough and sometimes made it hurt to breathe but she did love me. My sister was her failure, her competition for her husband, always needing more, never getting enough.

Why do I keep going back there? Because it feels so unfair. I'm furious at the world for doing this to my sister. Yes, people go through this everyday but hasn't she had enough?

I watched the curtains and I knew I couldn't cry anymore. I can't make anything better and time will tell if my sister recovers to a new place or not. I have no god to pray to, only my own strength to loan. I will be for her what my friends have been for me- healthy, loving support. Mindful of boundaries and kind in how I express them.

There has been enough spite and anger in her life. I will not ever do that to her.

And like my curtains that may see yet another decade, I will persevere through this. It is my lesson in this life. Holding the unbearable, the unspeakable, and waking up the next day unwilling to accept a row of barbed walls as my future.

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You said:

"I have no god to pray to, only my own strength to loan."

If there is a God who listens, and I am not convinced of it, surely he would hear this and add his strength to yours.

I heard two things that make a lot of sense to me recently.
1) I do not know what i do not know.
2 Feelings are not facts.

I also love the serenity prayer and when i am empty in my mind, i always resort to repeating it and picking it apart. My current understanding is: Grant me the serenity to accept, grant me the courage to change, grant me the wisdom to know the difference between the serenity to accept and the courage to change. I have to believe in God because i need it. That's good enough for me.

twinkie1cat | August 6, 2009 1:23 AM

God's strength is there for her and for you, Father Tony. All you have to do is ask for it. Say, "Jesus come into my heart and give me your strength."

twinkie1cat | August 6, 2009 1:38 AM

God never promised us that life would be without pain. Adam and Eve let sin into the world. There is the world, the flesh, and the devil. Suffering is not God's will or God would be evil. God never sends suffering down on people. That only happened in the Old Testament times when the people were worshipping idols. Then God sent an antidote to the suffering. Moses put up the brass snake. The people looked at it and were healed of the snake bites. They had the choice of whether to look at the snake or not. God does not allow idol worship in those who claim to be believers.

God gives us the free will to trust God and have comfort and help through the pain and the bad and God's guidance to help us make the world better in spite of the world, the flesh and the devil. God also gives us the freedom to reject God's comfort and guidance. For without freedom to reject love, there is no love.

Abuse is never God's will. That is Satan. The affects of Satan can be overcome through trust in God and those God sends to help us.

I pray God will cure the cancer. But there is physical healing which God and the doctors can do and then there is the ultimate healing when the sick person goes to heaven to be with God. It's all good. God has no bad.

Rick Elliott | August 6, 2009 3:00 AM

It is not part of Christian faith to believe if you're good, then good things happen to you. And if you're bad, bad things happen to you. It doesn't work that way.
In Matthew 5:45 Jesus remarks, "The sun is made to shine on good people and bad people alike. And it rains on both good and bad people."
Que sera might be one answer or the cruder--shit happens. Where God fits in is when bad things happen to us--God nurtures us and cares for us.
Another myth--If you do good for people, they'll be good to you in return. The truth is we treat folks well because it's the right thing to do. Whatever happens from that good act just happens.

Robert Ganshorn | August 6, 2009 3:35 AM

Sara, dear lady, the crummy reality of living additional years is the necessity to learn how to accept all types of loss. The better and more that we concentrate on our positives in our lives the sooner we can accomplish this. It does not mean we care less or suffer less, but our attitude about suffering is altered.

Remember that old WWII ditty? (I know neither of us were there, but it speaks well about people and their knowledge that friendships and life patterns are forever interrupted by things out of our control.)

"We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when... But I know we'll meet again some sunny day."

It was not about dying, although there was plenty, it was about dislocations of people and a sense that we are all still there for one another.

All you can do is the best you can do and my thoughts are with you.

I do love the serenity prayer. and I'll be meditating on that a lot today.

Tony, the funny thing about my sister and I is she is a born again christian. she believes enough for both of us. I am in awe of that kind of belief. I respect it.

I just don't have it.

but if, as you said, there is one, I'm happy to have whatever strength has to lend.

I mean, if there is one? it's gotta be a woman. please.

Marla Stevens | August 6, 2009 11:45 AM

Sarah, this is a brilliant piece -- and a beautiful one -- and you're right that your sister may continue to suffer because of the same reason she seeks a deus-ex-machina god to swoop in and take away her pain instead of having the courage to walk thru it to the peace on the other side of that fire.

By the way, passing off a human's decision to cause another pain in pursuit of his own self-indulgence as not his decision but the work of a faith's anti-god is just as irresponsible as it perpetuates the perpetrator's developmental vacation the same way that running to a big daddy god to avoid both facing the pain head-on and the difficulty of developing of the courage to feel perpetuates the victim's one.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not wholly antagonistic toward religion -- a healthy spirituality can help bring calm and focus to the work of healing -- but it doesn't supplant it. There are no shortcuts. You gotta do the work.

At some point you either end up stopping pretending that you honor your experience by constantly reliving the pain instead of resolving it or you don't and you stay stuck in the mire.

Me, I prefer being free.

um...Sara... I hope you realize that your sisters prayers were answered.

YOU went and got her out of hell, YOU took her in with care and love, YOU took her to see a real good doctor who has given her some hope.

YOU are the answer to your sister prayers.

and you don't even have wings or a halo...well, not yet.


it's hard to remember anything right now. a slow slur of many days in the hospital, cries out from pain, trying to help and being helpless.

don't be giving me no halo- I don't deserve it. and I don't want to go to heaven cuz there are too many right wing freaks up there.


me? I'll take hell in the handbasket with all my lovely pals.