Thoughts from a Swamp Creature
The following email was sent to me in September 2020. I have copied it in full without any edits:
I lived at the Centrepoint cooperative community for many years and have no recollection of ever seeing you there; nor have any of my friends whom I contacted to find out if any of them knew you or remembered anything about you. None did. Zero. So once again: It's no wonder lots and lots of former resident ‘children’ who are now well functioning adults do not want to talk about their experiences at Centrepoint. It’s NOT because of any abuse the vast majority of THEM suffered — it’s about the way the COMMUNITY was, and continues to be, stigmatised, ostracised, slandered, bad-mouthed and ABUSED by the ‘researchers’, journalists, press, television reporters, commentators, in their ‘reportage’ in practically all public media. Like You. Another of those SJW, BLM types. I sure hope you go down with the other deep state swamp creatures. Check out the family violence and sexual abuse that was then happening, and is now happening, anywhere in Auckland and its surrounding suburbs --- and you will find a far far greater percentage of abuse and youth suicide than the Centrepoint community ever experienced. Put that in your "report", you miserable creature. 😡
The words above are invalidating. They are an inflexible statement about what is truth and what is falsehood, what perspective is acceptable and what is not. These words say that what this person has seen, felt, heard, imagined, experienced and understood is the only possible way of seeing, knowing and believing. Not only are these words and the worldview behind them hate-filled, intending to silence my voice, they are seeking to limit, diminish, and eradicate any personal story which threatens or conflicts with the known and lived reality of this person‘s own experience. It is a threatening message to me, but also it says to any of the children of Centrepoint, “Keep quiet about what went wrong for you at Centrepoint. There is no room here for a perspective that challenges or threatens the accepted status-quo story.” It is a cowardly message, sent via the safety of anonymity, without even the bravery to name who they are. If they are so strong, so supported by their friends, why the anonymity? This person is a heckler in the stands, far up in the dark safety of the upper rows, throwing rotten fruit into the arena.
This heckler has boldly stated that the children of Centrepoint experienced only the same harm common to all children living in the area at the time. I wonder how they have come to this conclusion. By academic research? I would love to see the peer reviewed journal articles which supports these conclusions. I doubt there is research backing this claim however. I suspect this opinion is just a lot of hot air, generated from talking to friends about the good times at Centrepoint. By shutting out any conflicting data which might threaten this worldview. With this attitude, why on earth would anyone (someone in this person's family even) open up to them about their negative experiences, thereby challenging the possibility that this perspective might not be the whole truth? The bias this person brings to the narrative effectively maintains their own fixed view, because without any curiosity there is no possibility that this person could ever see a different version of the old story they have told themselves for 40 years.
The threat implicit in these words is, if you keep speaking out about these things, you will be rejected and exposed. This threat is an unveiled attempt to bring me down and is also a threat for any of my peers who has an unpalatable story to tell. People with difficult stories that may have never been shared before with friends, with siblings, with parents, or even honestly admitted to themselves. This is the sort of social threat which has the power to hold lips tightly closed, which keeps the burden well and truely inside, which squashes those memories down. And years later it erupts in silenced people as physical symptoms of chronic pain, depression, post-traumatic stress or in other equally damaging ways. The power of shaming and silence to diminish a person is real, and the example above is evidence to help explain why many have kept silent about what they experienced at Centrepoint for 30-40 years, to the huge detriment of themselves, their relationships, and their children.
Here is what my heckler is demanding of me:
Keep silent so that other people who stood by while children were harmed - or actively harmed children themselves - do not need to do the hard emotional and relational labour of self examination, reflection, reconciliation and repair. Keep silent so that those who are yet to explore their own pain, who would rather deny its presence yet live it out in reactive explosions directed against others, can continue to pretend that all is well without challenge. For the sake of these people - to avoid upsetting others - continue to carry the life-diminishing shame bottled inside which wreaks devastating harm on our lives and the lives of our children.
My heckler does not care one wit for me nor are they interested in what happened to me, nor to my friends. They only care about keeping themselves safe, and to do that they are hell-bent on maintaining the wall of certainty around the narrative that they have constructed of the past.
Instead of working with the bully above to maintain the shame and silence which only serves them, I suggest another path:
Speak out with your stories until they are so normal that they are part of the landscape of history, no longer questioned, or denied, no longer challenged or used against you with threats of rejection and destruction if you are honest with your loved ones. Through familiarity and repetition with safe and trusted people allow these traumatic events to become smaller with time, to become just something which happened to you in your past. Through sharing and talking and supporting each other allow these events to become integrated and restored in your lives, so that we can talk about them with our friends and our families without being undone. Shed tears for the losses and celebrate the rewards and no longer be controlled by fear and shame, but become free of those awful emotions. Draw our peers, or brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers into this work with us, to heal the wounds, to reconcile the relationships, and to truely put the past to sleep.
Somehow, either way, I don’t think my heckler is going to participate on this repair journey. While they have not stopped me from speaking out against silencing and shaming, they have highlighted very succinctly why the story of Centrepoint has not be thoroughly told yet. Unfortunately this person is someone’s mother or father, sister or brother, or even maybe a son or daughter, and is someone who is actively working within his or her peer group and family to shut down the conversation to protect themselves.
I really do wonder what it is that they are so actively trying to keep from coming to the attention of others. What is this person hiding from others? What are they hiding from themselves? I feel compassion for this person who only has one way to respond to attempts to open up long hidden and deeply damaging pain. I feel sadness for someone who is so focussed on hurting a stranger, so clearly in pain themselves, yet so unable to see that and how it diminishes their life.
No doubt I will hear more from them at some point.