Warning: this entry contains spoilers of the movie "Perks of Being a Wallflower" as well as dialogue about the reality of abuse for its victims...
Sometimes it just hurts too much to admit...
Last night, I sat down and watched Perks of Being a Wallflower. I'd heard great things about it from seminary friends, and after deciding that yesterday needed to be a day of sabbath rest for me, I picked it up from Redbox without really knowing what I was getting myself into. While I wish I'd had some warning, I'm glad I watched it. The reality is I needed to, if only for the sake of catalyzing my own emotional catharsis.
In the story, the main character, Charlie, is entering high school. As is usual with freshmen, he feels a certain sense of anxiety and apprehension, but in his case, there are reasons we don't yet know, some of which don't become clear until the very end of the film.
We learn, fairly early, that one of Charlie's best friends recently committed suicide, without leaving a note, a painful reality that leaves survivors with too many unanswerable questions.
We learn that Charlie himself struggles with some form of mental illness, one that manifested itself in delusions, hallucinations, and painful ideations.
We learn that several of Charlie's friends have endured some form of hardship, abuse, or brutality, and have each learned to cope in different ways.
Finally, we learn that Charlie himself is a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of his aunt who, on the night of one of his childhood birthdays, was killed in a car crash.
Charlie suffers from blackouts, momentary lapses of memory where some trigger forces his conscious mind to retreat and where he is only minimally responsible for his actions that occur during said blackout. In a scene that takes place in the school's cafeteria, Charlie's friend Patrick (who we learn early on is gay and in a secret relationship with the high school quarterback), is attacked by some of the other football players. Charlie comes to the rescue, but we do not see the fight, only the aftermath. Charlie looks at his hands, now red and bruising. He helps Patrick to his feet and warns their attackers, "Touch my friends again and I'll blind you."
... Sometimes you don't want to remember
As a victim of abuse myself, I envied Charlie. I never developed the blackout coping mechanism. Although I don't recall much of my own childhood, I don't think that's because my consciousness ever retreated but instead coped by way of repression, of selective memory, a reality that my therapist and I have addressed and worked to correct for several years now.
Ask anyone who has suffered and endured abuse of any sort to describe their experience, their emotions, and one word will almost always come up:
When in the midst of being abused, whether physically, verbally, emotionally, or sexually, there is no sense that one has control over the situation. My own abuse began when I was nine, and it wasn't until I was perhaps twenty that I spoke out and refused to be victimized any longer. Even once a person has stood up and defied abuse, the reality is you never stop doing so. You have to speak up, speak out, over and over and over again, because once you've been abused, it's hard to rid yourself of the fear of it happening again and again and again.
Abuse strips you of your power and gives it to your abuser.
Taking it back takes a lifetime.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 80% of 21 year olds that were abused as children met criteria for at least one psychological disorder. Charlie developed his before even entering high school. So did I. So did other friends of mine who were victims of abuse as children. As many people with mental illness will you tell you, while you can learn to cope, to deal with the symptoms of your illness, there's never really any getting over it. It doesn't ever fully go away.
The pain never really leaves...
Near the end of Perks, after his friends have left, Charlie has another blackout and wakes up in the hospital. He remembers what happened between him and his aunt, and he questions whether or not he had any part of her death. His doctor (played by Joan Cusack), sits down in the room with him after he awakens. He wants to leave. He doesn't want to be one of "those kids." She questions him about what he's feeling, and in what had to have been a moment written with me in mind, Charlie shares something incredibly profound.
He's not hurting from his own pain and suffering. He's hurting because he feels the pain and suffering of those around him, of those whom he loves most, to an insufferable degree with very little capacity to control just how much he feels.
I've always been an empathetic person, and more than one time I've shared these very same sentiments with my partner, my therapist, and my friends. Yes, I have my own pain, but I can handle that. What disables me more is feeling the pain of the world around me, the pain of empathy, the pain of vulnerability.
Odds are you know someone who has suffered abuse, presuming you yourself have not. If you have, you're not alone. If you have not, I'm thankful. No person deserves to endure the heartache and dehumanization of abuse. Unfortunately, too many do. Statistics say that an instance of abuse is reported every 10 seconds. 6 times per minute. If this statistic holds true, then in the time it's taken me to write this entry, nearly 400 instances of abuse have been reported.
Four-hundred people have been abused since I started writing this...
If you suspect that someone you know is being abused, report it. In the U.S., for child abuse, call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). To report domestic violence in the U.S., call 1−800−799−SAFE (1-800-799-7233). If someone tells you they're being abused, do something. Don't wait for someone else to pick up the slack, to notice the signs. If we don't do anything, who will?