Learning to swim

20 Feb

Last night on ABC TV one of the more interesting truth seekers of the last decade, documentary film maker Louis Theroux, spent time with paroled sex offenders in Los Angeles.

I was a little chary of watching after growing up with abuse. It’s never possible to be certain that something you see or hear or smell or taste or feel or touch won’t revive a memory you thought safely long gone, as Proust observed some while before the term “trigger warning” was coined.

Theroux has the style of the best therapists: his presence is fearless, he will go wherever his subject wants to take him, and his skilled use of silence creates a space in which others can speak what they may not otherwise say.

As he frankly admitted, there were ways in which Theroux liked some of his subjects, while at the same time being unwilling and unable to set aside from his thinking their crimes, and the effects of those crimes on others, particularly children.

I felt sadness and pity for the broken, lonely lives led by the offenders.

It is almost impossibly difficult to express any emotions other than revulsion, hatred, and outrage towards sex offenders, and their crimes are deserving of all those feelings.  It is understandably required of us that our compassion be directed only towards their victims. But I am wondering if it is possible to hold the care and concern for the victim, and the sad pity for the perpetrator in the mind and heart at the same time.

It isn’t something I could have considered until I’d spent decades dealing with an aftermath of traumatic abuse that never really ends. It just changes. There are ways in which a life is broken by such experiences, and is only really ever cobbled together again. If you haven’t had a childhood, nothing and no one can ever give it to you. There is a loneliness in knowing darkness, because darkness separates you forever from those who haven’t known it. The predator passes on their broken, lonely life.

Because of my circumstances and its effects on me, I never learned to properly swim. One day, Mrs Chook said, I am going to teach you to swim properly.

I was full of fear. I couldn’t put my head under water, or breathe. She coaxed, and encouraged, and rewarded and persisted, and one day it all fell into place, and I was swimming properly.

This is one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me. I can be a child in the pool. I never knew what it was to be a child in a pool. Now I take that child for a swim whenever I have the chance and when we’ve swum our laps, we play.


Quint Buccholz Two


So the point of this is, I  was wondering if this long, gradual, infinite process of healing myself as best I can, with the most enormous amount of help and love, has brought me to a place where I can watch Louis Theroux give a voice to people like the one who stole my childhood, and feel sad pity for his broken life. I am wondering, is this what forgiveness is?

I am currently confined by two circumstances. Illness, and the edges of tropical cyclone Marcia. Our house is like a snug, dry cave and through the windows there’s our garden, lush, green and dripping. Confinement has it purposes, if one can but see them.

43 Responses to “Learning to swim”

  1. Mindy February 20, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

    How wonderful that Mrs Chook was able to give you the freedom of swimming and you were able to take it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jan Dobson February 20, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

    I’m a voracious reader and occasionally a piece of poetry, a phrase or paragraph will touch me so that for an untimed moment I sit, immersed in or holding onto an emotion. It’s a place where other words are unnecessary.

    Today this piece, you, took me there. It is a literary crystal, through which the light both spreads into a rainbow of colour and shines, bright with clarity.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Elisabeth February 20, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

    What can I say, but once again, you take us to places where the unthinkable becomes thinkable. It’s hard identifying with abusers, but they too were once babies like you and me. And although we cannot condone their acts, we need to have some compassion for whatever it was done to them that drove them there. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sophie Anderson February 20, 2015 at 2:56 pm #

    I was sorry to read of your abusive past but so happy you learnt how to swim! As a survivor of abuse myself, I’ll admit that my stomach churns at the word ‘forgiveness’. I accept it is up to the individual survivor if they choose to forgive or not. I didn’t and never will. This doesn’t stop me from getting on with my life though. This Oprah mantra of ‘you have to forgive’ to move on REALLY upsets me. It puts the onus on the person wronged. How dare they. The majority of abusers are not sorry and do not deserve forgiveness. I recently listened to a fantastic speech by a lawyer who represents children exclusively – Andrew Vachss and would like to share it with you. I cant link directly to speech but you can click on the link on the page I provide if you wish. All the best. http://www.vachss.com/av_interviews/pennstate.html


    • Jennifer Wilson February 20, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

      Thank you very much Sophie

      As you say, every experience is individual and nobody can tell anyone else how or what they ought to do.

      I’m not interested in the Oprah style mantra.

      We just hope to find a place where we can live a life. Nobody else can tell us how we should do that.

      All the best to you.


      • paul walter February 20, 2015 at 11:38 pm #

        I wonder if forgiveness extends to the self. Don’t victims sometimes blame themselves also? They have to realise that some things were beyond even their ability to control (kids, for gods sake!!) and it wasnt their fault that some other being abused their power?

        It perhaps DOES help to understand why another did such stupid and cruel things, to see them not as the powerful beings they thought they were, but understand that they were perhaps even more damaged in some way than their victims, even to pity them, since if a kid couldn’t prevent it, how could a damaged idiot?

        Realising their condition and error might make it easier to reconcile oneself to oneself and forgive ones own mortality, errors and failings, also?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson February 21, 2015 at 7:06 am #

          Yes, victims often blame ourselves and part of the recovery is learning that is unnecessary.

          It’s complicated, but I think when one can see the powerlessness of someone who once seemed overpowering it permits a distancing, a separation from that once dominating individual, and makes the ties easier to sever.

          Takes a long time.

          Liked by 1 person

          • paul walter February 21, 2015 at 9:19 am #

            Better late than never.

            Sounds a bit like the abscessed tooth I lost a couple of days ago, happier if it had gone much earlier, considering the grief it bought last week. Nasty pong, when it was finally levered out, then a sense of relief.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Jennifer Wilson February 21, 2015 at 9:55 am #

              Ah, you got rid of the tooth! Excellent. Things can only improve now.


          • Michaela Tschudi February 23, 2015 at 9:14 pm #

            Yes we have to learn how and where to redirect the shame, and that’s not easy even with the help of a very skilled therapist.


  5. iODyne February 20, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    “wondering if it is possible to hold the care and concern for the victim, and the sad pity for the perpetrator in the mind and heart at the same time”
    Yes, as I do when I see dead foxes strung on rural fences. he was just hungry. but oh the baby lambs. So the Output of my Throughput is to be vegetarian and not support the factory-farming of animal flesh.
    Swim little Jennifer, swim if you can. Weightless freedom.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mayan February 20, 2015 at 4:34 pm #

    Fortunately, I haven’t suffered the trauma you’ve been through.

    A while ago, I stumbled across a book called “Monstrous Crimes and the Failure
    of Forensic Psychiatry” by Douard and Schultz which covers some of this difficult terrain. One of the themes of the work was an inquiry into whether modern society, in our perpetual search for a boogey monster of our age, hasn’t to some extent created a myth of the sex offender, as opposed to the reality. This myth/monster is a relentless, unstoppable, unfeeling psychopath, incapable of choice or change, and upon whom society can safely vent its hate. As the book notes in the preface, “… we cannot properly address the problem of sex offending, and especially child sexual abuse, if we refuse to acknowledge that offenders are human.”

    Another thing: today, I stumbled across this: http://harvardlawreview.org/2015/02/trading-the-megaphone-for-the-gavel-in-title-ix-enforcement-2/ It notes briefly that a young man was made the subject of an administrative restraining order by a US university, affecting his studies and employment, because he _resembled_ the attacker of a female student. He was investigated thoroughly, but there was no evidence whatsoever that he could have committed the crime in question nor any sign of similar offending. I imagine most people would say that this is an example of trigger warnings gone too far, but I do wonder, given that they are becoming almost as common as an author’s name on an article, whether they have now lost meaning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 20, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

      Yes, child sex offenders are referred to as “monsters” but they are human, and such behaviour is part of the spectrum of human behaviour. As a species we seem to reject the dark side of our capabilities, using the word “human” to denote all things positive.

      I think it’s true that we won’t come to grips with many of the worst human behaviour until we stop identifying it as an aberration. Clearly statistics prove it isn’t.


  7. thevenerable1 February 20, 2015 at 4:40 pm #

    I should so like to be able to master the art of forgiveness …

    Liked by 2 people

    • Michaela Tschudi February 20, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

      As would I, venerable1. Jennifer’s earlier post on this subject is essential reading. As a survivor of abuse, I struggle with forgiveness. I suspect it is a lot harder than learning to swim. My only hope is that it doesn’t take 10,000 hours of therapy/practice (Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist and musician maintains that it takes this long to become “expert” at anything). Right now, I just feel immense sadness, pain and some anger.

      Liked by 2 people

      • thevenerable1 February 20, 2015 at 8:01 pm #

        I’ve lived such a sheltered life – and I mean that in all sincerity. I’ve never known a soul, personally I mean, who was abused as a child. And yet there are so many of you …


    • Jennifer Wilson February 20, 2015 at 5:23 pm #

      Does anyone, Venerable? Every time I’m seriously offended I have to learn it all over again!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Di Pearton February 20, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    Ahhh, the joy of swimming! I think sometimes, if we all just went for a swim 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. paul walter February 20, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

    I saw snippets of that.. the few examples I saw were moth-eaten old blokes from blue-collar/trailor trash country; not especially bright, borderline (?) a bit pitiful in the way some politicians are.

    Yes, what ever else you are at least you need not be one of them WOULD be a crime.

    You say you are off colour, Jennifer Wilson.

    You see, Ive been just ill enough myself lately to notice that and hope it isn”t too serious.
    Get well qucik and keep an eye out for low flying mangroves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 20, 2015 at 7:15 pm #

      Thanks PW, I hope you are feeling better.

      We are up to our necks in the wet, and king tides will do us in tonight I think. We have food, we are dry, and if necessary a chopper will airlift us out, so we are doing well.


      • Michaela Tschudi February 20, 2015 at 9:26 pm #

        Sheep, chook and white rabbit in a chopper? I’d like to see that. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

        • paul walter February 20, 2015 at 11:11 pm #

          With carrots, onions, parsnips, tomatoes.. no blenders, we’re British.

          Liked by 2 people

        • paul walter February 21, 2015 at 9:09 am #

          The interest concerning Mrs Chook intensifies.

          I can see this in the wake of other comments through the posting.

          Has Mrs Chook coped adequately with the storm?

          Much depends on the answer we get from this question.. completely pivotal.


          • Jennifer Wilson February 21, 2015 at 9:14 am #

            It’s not over yet….


            • paul walter February 21, 2015 at 9:21 am #

              It is supposed to be bad in the NT as well.

              Down here it goes hotter, whenever there are big storms north.


  10. doug quixote February 20, 2015 at 9:42 pm #

    I watched most of the Theroux program. Immediately apparent was how pathetic the offenders were; how evasive they were about their offences and how they tried to justify themselves. If you as a victim can feel pity in your heart for them, how can I, never a victim, do less?

    Intellectually, I suppose part of your therapy, your route towards normality (whatever that is) is to desensitise yourself to the sex offender, to see them as human rather than a stereotype.

    All power to you, Jennifer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter February 20, 2015 at 11:28 pm #

      Too right DQ, these were very sad cases, walking traffic accidents about the place, cleaning up the equivalent of innocent drivers or pedestrians on their haphazard progress.

      As with car bingles, rehab may take time for the person drawn into this other persons fantasy world and injured through that.

      Maybe Jenny Wilson’s problem is that she has become too normal..sees too much?

      There is no question that she must have worked on a lot of recovery early, or she would have ended up dead somewhere with a hypo full of smack in her system, this seems some times the tragic roadkill that comes of child abuse.

      In Dr Wilson’s case, the thing has moved to the point where what she’s found for herself, may be or maybe not with the help of others, she feels she must share next, to affirm her own relief in the (re) discovery of her innocence and validity. From there, comes the real satisfaction of turning an individual and societal disaster into a positive situation for herself and other hirthoe oppressed people, even eventually perhaps the often damged themselves, slobs, who commit the crimes.

      That is powerful stuff, to me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson February 21, 2015 at 5:02 am #

        Nobody’s ever before suggested that I’m “too normal”, PW. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • paul walter February 21, 2015 at 9:03 am #

          I know. I’d be offended if someone called me that also..

          Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 21, 2015 at 4:59 am #

      DQ, It’s more acknowledging that the word “human” includes the worst of the species as well as the best.
      Is actually the opposite of desensitisation. The stereotype desensitises I think.


      • doug quixote February 21, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

        Perhaps I chose the wrong term. What I meant was that most people who have been abused by persons who are termed “rock spiders”, in prison, would be so revolted that they would refuse to watch such a program. These are genuine child-sex offenders, not actors. If you can bear to listen to their ‘stories’, their evasions and their lies without turning off, are you not then desensitised, even if only a little?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Michaela Tschudi February 22, 2015 at 11:17 pm #

          DQ, children who are abused often develop pathological attachments to their abuser/s. They try to maintain these attachments even at the risk of their own health and welfare. This is adaptive behaviour. The healing process takes long time, especially when the trauma is revealed when the child becomes an adult. Rather than focus on desensitisation, the healing process is more about helping the person to develop a coherent system of meaning and self belief that encompasses their experience of trauma. Healing allows the survivor to view these programs, to listen to the stories without, as you say, turning off.

          Liked by 1 person

          • paul walter February 23, 2015 at 3:34 am #

            That’s a devastatingly powerful comment on a deep and complex phenomena.. Michaela, I like you more and more.

            Liked by 2 people

          • doug quixote February 24, 2015 at 1:05 am #

            OK, I think I get it. Thanks for the reply, Michaela.


            • Michaela Tschudi February 24, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

              It’s a bit more complex but I hope I didn’t make it too simplistic.



  1. Sunday links – mental health | Hoyden About Town - March 22, 2015

    […] Learning to swim by Jennifer Wilson at No Place for Sheep. A relatively positive note to end on – the gradual process of healing from trauma and abuse; being able to forgive. […]


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