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Apr 5, 2011

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Once upon a time there were two teenagers who eloped and had a baby boy. They came back to their home town, the husband took a low-paying job and struggled mightilly to support his family. The husband grew up with a father who was abusive to his wife, and there are indications that he was abusive to his son. There were alleged pedophiles in both the mother's and the father's families, and the one in the father's family killed himself before he could be indited for rapeing a child. Life was stressful in the household. Another child was born, a girl this time, but within a few years, the parents had split up. The boy ended up staying with his father for a few years, while the girl stayed with her mother. The mother moved in with a horriffically abusive partner, and both her children were witness to varying amounts of her abuse. At one point, the mother refused to let her son move back in with her, for fear of the damage that witnessing her abuse would do to him. The mother ultimately left the abusive partner, and her son moved back in with her. He would later describe her, at this point in her parenting carreer, as "emotionally abusive". Her now teenaged son wasn't exactly easy to live with at this point and was showing signs of clinical depression and drug use. While he was still a teenager, his mother threw him out of the house, and he bounced around from relative to relative, friend to friend, and was homeless for periods of time.

The boy floundered through his early adulthood, but found solice and pride in his musical ability. He ultimately wrote songs so full of pain and anger that they touched the heart of everyone who had been truely hurt in a very special way. He was hailed as a musical genius and innovator. He spoke out against violence against women every chance he got. He fell in love with a woman who's past was at least as horriffic as his, married her and had a daughter with her. By all accounts he was as good a father to her as he could be. By this time in his life, the illegal drugs he had been dabbling with since he was a teenager had become a major destructive force in his life. Seventeen years ago today, he took his own life. 

Sadly, I think it's worth remembering Kurt Cobain's life not only to celebrate his accomplishments, but to evaluate how little we've learned about preventing the hurt and destruction that he went through as a child. His parents were young, poor and at least one of them had a clear trauma history. When Kurt was born, all science concerning child abuse and its prevention was in its infancy. Decades later, it isn't, but its prioritized and funded as though it's effects are inconsiquential. One can look through the biographical information about Kurt's life and find specific things, spelled out, that count as abuse and trauma. They find lots and lots of things that simply went wrong, instances where some guidance from someone with experience raising a child with mental illness,or who had survivied parental domestic violence and divorce could have contributed a lot to his parents' skills and decision-making processes. When a sexual abuse survivor pours through some of that information, they will recognize many, many indications that Kurt was sexually abused as a child. This hypothesis is probably unproveable, and could be very messy and complicated to research, but it shows how much ignorance is out there when it comes to recognizing child sexual abuse, even in the medical and chemical-dependency fields.

Volumes are written about the connection between creativity and mental illness. That connection might be valid, but I suspect there's another facet to it. I think the reason there are so many mentally ill, damaged creative geuiuses out there is because part of being a trauma survivor, part of being hurt badly enough to dramatically increase your odds of devolping mental illness, is you have your voice taken away from you. And some people who go through that spend the rest of their lives trying to get it back. As important and theraputic as getting that voice back can be, it isn't always enough. Child abus survivors are 1,220% more likely to attempt suicide than their non-abused peers. That's not a typo- that is a comma, not a decimal point.

As an abuse survivor who was a teenager in the 90's, Nirvana, and some of the other bands that became popular during that decade, bands that could put an aching, shattered soul into sound and words, provided me with great strength, solice and wisdom. Rather than turn April 5 into a sad day of hand-wringing and wondering "why", I want it to be a day where we decide to learn some lessons our society has been very slow to grasp.



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Posted: Tuesday April 5, 2011, 8:37 am
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