The Story of My Abuse
Bryce J. Lemon
With recognition that all personal stories, experiences and memories are subjective.
I've been depressed and suicidal for as long as I can remember. A lot of people would remember me as an angry or a violent kid. I started getting into fights as early as five years old, if not earlier. This continued all the way up through high school. I didn't trust people. And I was afraid of them... so incredibly afraid that the very second someone would start to tease me or poke fun of me, I would punish them so mercilessly that they would never dare even look at me again. Intimidation became my only protection and I bullied everyone from my siblings to my classmates, teachers, leaders, friends... It was easy for me to understand why people didn't like me. But like me or not, I was gonna make sure that people feared me.
I pretty much continued on like this until I was about seventeen. At this age, a couple of things happened that started to open my eyes as to what was going on with myself. I remember one night specifically... It was an incredibly lonely night. I've never really been able to sleep and if I do sleep it's a very restless sleep... always aware of what and who is in my room. The second I sense anything around me I'll usually pop up and immediately check my surroundings.
That one night I couldn't sleep. I took to watching movies to get me through the night. I worked at Hollywood Video, so I had unlimited access to watch anything that I wanted. This particular night I watched American Beauty. As I watched this film I started to relate to the characters in the film more than I have to anything else in my entire life... particularly the story of the physically abusive father next door and his relationship to his son. I sympathized so deeply with Ricky's pain (played by Wes Bentley), that by the end of the film, I was left in tears... just sobbing on my floor.
For some reason, after the film, I decided to start digging through our storage. I opened an old box and inside were my mom's journals. I started reading them and I was immediately horrified. Page after page of my mom describing her teenage days... sneaking off with her boyfriend and skipping school, then coming home to be beaten and raped by my grandfather on almost a daily basis. She described it so matter-of-factly... like she deserved it and that it was nothing out of the norm.
I spent the night shaking in my room. The next morning I confronted my mother about it and she was very angry that I read those journals. She told me she's lived a tough life and that I shouldn't tell anyone what I read and especially not tell my siblings. This completely rattled me though. We were very close with my extended family at this time. We went to my grandparents house every week, and it was then that I began to watch what was going on and became conscious of my environment.
Every time would start out pretty much the same. Each family would arrive, very hesitant and nervous for what was going to happen. Everyone would continue on in small talk, but by the time we got to dinner, they'd start going at each other's throats. There were times that it would only end in screaming matches, but there were also times that it would turn physical. I realized that it had always been like this and after watching my extended family, I realized that all of the stories in the journals were absolutely true.
My initial response was to feel very bad for my mother. I thought about this constantly over the next year, until one night something happened with my brother. He came to me and told me that he was going to murder my dad in his sleep. My brother had pretty much lost it emotionally and he had hidden a large kitchen knife under his bed and he was waiting for my dad to come home and fall asleep... and then he was going to do it. I told my younger sister about it and we all talked it out... To let you know something of our mindset at that time, we all hated my dad so bad that we thought that it might be a good idea. But we thought my brother would end up in juvenile detention and that it would ruin his life so we told him that we wouldn't let him do it. This angered him to the point that he grabbed the knife and went at the two of us. We subdued him violently. Eventually, he gave up on it and life went on... sort of.
After that I became obsessed by an idea for a film... a film I called Crimson, for the color of blood. I thought it had interesting connotations for the connection between family and violence. The idea was to tell the story of a disturbed, violent kid who would eventually kill his father. I left for college shortly after this and while there I began to write the script for the film. I started digging into the psychology of what would drive a child to do this. As I sought out feedback for the film, everyone always questioned his motivations. Why was he so violent? Was he physically abused? What caused him to be so angry? My character, Sean Solomon (Solo-man, for his isolation) was the first character that I felt represented the way I felt. But I myself couldn't figure out why I was so violent... I didn't know why I was so depressed, why I wanted to hurt everyone and anyone that came near me. My parents weren't physically violent with us. This question ate at me and ate at me.
A few years later I moved to Los Angeles and was working on about my 18th draft of Crimson. I decided to put it aside for a while and began working on what became my first real film, Contrition. This film stepped away from the violence and tackled the subject of sexual guilt. It's a pretty simple story, a young man who meets a girl outside of his religion which his father doesn't accept. This drives him to hurt himself and leads to a sort-of-resolution where the father finally asks his son for forgiveness. This film mirrored my life almost entirely at the time. From my experience with my first sexual partner and the hostility met with my family at her being in my life to my own self-destructive patterns. (I'd secretly been masochistic for a long time. I would hurt myself to get attention. It's the only time anyone would show any affection to me.)
When my father saw the film, he told me that I was cut off and didn't talk to me for a couple of years. My parents were recently divorced now from which he quickly remarried. This emboldened him to cut his children off completely. I've maybe had a handful of conversations with him since.
However, outside of my family, no one could relate to the film. Not a single person understood the pain that the main character was going through. No one understood his intimacy issues. Basically the feedback that I got from everyone was that my main character (representing myself) was completely un-relatable.
Very soon after this, my life took a dramatic change. I broke up with my girlfriend and not having any financial backing from my parents, with no connections or friends in Los Angeles, I got evicted from my apartment after getting layed off from my second job I had to hold so I could work my internship. I was basically homeless at this point, and so my sister and I made a decision in reckless abandon to sell everything we owned and get the hell out.
We knew we didn't fit in in America, so we decided to try to find somewhere that we did which led to the experience depicted in my next film Take it with You. We were on the road for nearly a year and circled the entire globe. By this time I was a complete alcoholic. Our days were pretty much the same. We would wake up, get drunk, then wander and talk about everything that had ever happened to us. Alyssa was struggling with her sexuality. She'd hidden that she was homosexual her entire life and it had taken its toll. I was trying to find reasons not to kill myself. Almost every person I'd ever encountered to this point had made it a point to tell me I was an evil person (very specifically that my heart was black and full of hate). I hated myself with a deep intensity. Absolutely hated myself. I thought that if I at least created something beautiful, maybe it would justify my existence.
We got into some incredibly dangerous situations. We both decided that we were probably going to die on the road and both accepted it in a way. The only real miracle I've ever experienced is the fact that we came home in one piece. How we made it out of some of the situations we put ourselves in still amazes me to this day. I think I was seeking death. I welcomed it. I was hoping to find it. I saw it as a huge relief to the pain that I felt so intensely every single day of my entire life. I wouldn't ever take my life myself, but if nature would... I would accept my fate.
When we got home, we both returned to live with my mother and our siblings. I only lasted a couple of weeks before I felt I had to get the hell out of there and I drove a 250cc motorcycle almost a thousand miles to get back to Los Angeles. When I got back I started my company and finished the film. But it didn't bring any relief...
I was still drinking heavily and it wasn't long until I got into drugs. I wanted to experience anything else but reality. I just couldn't take it. I hated the way Americans treated each other. I hated the way money dominated every interaction. I hated everything about Los Angeles and the people here. But with some good drugs, I felt okay.
I dropped acid one day then caught a ride to work, working on a crew for a small movie. I arrived on set, grabbed some food and met up for the morning walkthrough. But there was something different about the house we were shooting in... The family that lived there was of the same religion that I was raised in and when I stepped inside I immediately felt sick. I approached a wall where they had pictures of their children in their ritualistic dresses and a flood of memories rushed back to me. I immediately ran outside and vomited.
I saw images of hooded figures, ramming their cocks down my throat, slamming me against a wall... (I was about five in these images). They held me so I couldn't move, and then led my sister Alyssa, wearing a white dress, into a room where they positioned her upon an altar. They took turns inserting artifacts inside of her and blessing her with holy oil. I tried to look away, but the figure holding me forced my head back towards her. I remember the feeling of the strength in the figure's arm and recognizing who it was even though I couldn't see them. They then forced me on her.
The images continued. We drove back home and when we got there we all went out to play in the neighborhood. I went over to the house of a young girl that I had a crush on. We went down into her basement and were playing nintendo. It seemed like we were just hanging out like normal, but then she asked me if she could see my penis. I asked her, “Why?” She told me that she'd never seen one before. She only had little sisters at that time, so it made sense to me. She told me she'd give me a Coca-Cola if I would and that was enough to motivate me. I took off my clothes and she took off her clothes and then we started playing around. Then her mom came downstairs.
She ran to me and ripped me away from her daughter, almost breaking my arm. She carried me up the stairs and threw me against the door. She forcefully dressed me and then dragged me back to my house. My mother was appalled. I remember her calling me a pervert and then through a long graphic explanation of what I did wrong, I became convinced from then on that my erections were the Holy Ghost, so that every time that I felt turned on, I related it to being evil. And due to my experiences at the hands of my abusers, I became almost perpetually turned on.
I started masturbating constantly. Every chance that I could. I'd make these promises to God that I would stop the next day... but then in answer thought that I better have an enjoyable day today though. Every time I did it though, I would count up all of my sins and became pretty quickly convinced that I was going straight to hell.
The vision broke and I came back to and found myself back on the film set. In that moment, everything made perfect sense. I sat up and realized that I had passed out on the lawn. I had someone radioing for me over the walkie talkie system asking for me to bring some lights in. I went about the rest of my day deep in thought about the images that were now streaming through my mind.
I tried to convince myself that these images were only the drugs. That I was probably making it all up. But the images continued to come. Images of waiting our turn in my grandparents' home to go downstairs for the “blessings” as they called them. The horror of walking down the hall in that dark basement, knowing what was waiting for you on the other side. Images of my parents surprising me in the middle of the night, checking my anus cause they're worried about my health. Images of aunts and uncles and cousins touching me when they thought no one was looking. Images of my friend's sister, masturbating in front of us and making us watch or else she'd make up lies about us to get us in trouble. Images of my grandfather always accompanying me into the changing room and watching me strip rather than waiting for me outside like the other parents. Images of my brother screaming bloody murder every single night and going to check on him to always find my father helping him pee while he's sobbing in tears. Images of church leaders asking questions about my masturbation habits, down to the very detail and emotion. Images of being forced to wear white robes with slits on the side to have holy oil placed upon my “loins” for a blessing of fertility... and old men's hands grazing against my testicles. Images of my sister trying to inform a church leader that she had been touched inappropriately, and immediately being told to “shut up” and taken into a back room immediately. Images of playing games with my friends, where we would dare each other to knock on the doors of houses we knew to be “dangerous”... and then being pulled inside and brutally raped. Images of boy scout camps, where the only child to not masturbate in front of the group would be beaten and mocked. Images upon image upon image....
I feel tremendous shame even writing this down...
Because of my nature, I decided to see how deep the rabbit hole went. I through myself into drugs, particularly psylocibin mushrooms. I needed to know. I ate mushrooms about three times a week for a period of about four or five months. Unfortunately, the drugs led me further into my delusions as well as my discoveries.
During this time I met this girl that I was fascinated with. I wanted her attention so badly that I lied to her that I had a movie deal to direct a union feature and that I would be shooting it the following fall. The film Primal/Ethereal was dealing very specifically with natural vs. societal expressions of sex along with the meeting point between the physical and spiritual world. Because of my drug use, I personally began to believe that the film was transmitted to me from God basically and because of that there was no way I could fail. I pushed the limits as far as I could with regards to forcing my way into the film industry. I pushed my team, pushed my friends, pushed every resource I could and exhausted it in hopes to literally will this film into existence. I fueled myself with drugs, music, film, art, poetry... Eventually this all came crashing down on me.
Just to illustrate how incredibly insecure I was, I thought that every time that I met with this girl I had to blow her away or basically mind fuck her to get her attention. Every time that I saw her I would surprise her with a new script that I wrote, a poem, photography, paintings... anything and everything I could push myself to create to try and get her attention. I wrote a 1,000 page book of poetry. I wrote a film called Megalo about a megalomanic (myself) who's essentially an innocent due to his abusive past who decides to start his own cult to win over a girl. I wrote a film The Weight of Blood as a meditation on violence and its source. I thought that through writing these films I could demonstrate to her that I was actively dealing with my past and moving on from it. I thought it would be enough. I was too blind to see that it was 1000x more than enough... overwhelming to the point of exhaustion.
I began enrolling people into my delusions and used advanced forms of manipulation and leverage to get whatever I wanted out of them. I was well on my way to becoming dangerous... but thankfully, this all exploded in my face.
I literally destroyed almost every relationship I had in the wake of all of this. In order to salvage what I could out of the damage, I approached Alyssa to develop out and shoot In Neon Lights. This film tells the story of a repressed homosexual, Cal, who follows the man he loves into the red light district and finds himself trapped within a lie that consumes him and destroys him from the inside. My entire family was involved in the making of this film. While on the outside we projected a facade of being this “talented and passionate” family, what was going on behind doors was rotten to the core. Really, it was this film that brought to light just how damaged we all really were. Alyssa and I became ruthless to each other. We were at each other's throats over the content of the film. We got into daily arguments and fights which eventually led me to screaming at her, “There's no one who hates me more than me. It doesn't matter if you hate me cause there's no one who fucking hates me more than me.”
I remember getting home after that and feeling absolutely sick. I broke down and sobbed in the center of my room. I broke down. Mentally broke down... If only I could wish myself out of existence... disappear into the ether... I thought of packing my bags and taking off forever... I thought of just simply killing myself... Instead, I locked myself in my room for six days and wrote Intimare: A Prologue. Its opening line, “Insanity snarls. Ringing deep.”
When I finished the script, I sent it out to my team. No one talked to me about it for a couple of weeks. Essentially, most of them quit. The first draft was dark. Dark, dark, dark... A primordial scream of absolute anguish. I set it to the side and went back to work on In Neon Lights.
The production of In Neon Lights was almost magical. It was like the years of planning, hard work, the honing of skills came to a culmination. The film was much darker than we thought it would be, but truly it represented the inner world of the team who created it.
Throughout the year leading up to it, my immediate family had developed a habit of enabling each other in our drug use. Instead of getting together as a family for a meal or just meeting up, we would get together and use psychadelic drugs. At this point we had all become conscious of our past abuse. Each of us having individual memories returning and for a while we saw these “ceremonies” as opportunities to get together and try to heal the past trauma between each other. And for a while it seemed to be working. By the time we finished production on the film, we were closer than we'd ever been... with the exception to me and Alyssa. The two of us had caused a rift between the family that was threatening to destroy us all entirely.
My mom had happened upon a couple of “shamans” who held ayahuasca ceremonies. She told both Alyssa and I that for her birthday she wanted the two of us to join her and my other siblings in one of these ceremonies. I reluctantly agreed, knowing all along that should I participate in this ceremony I would be compelled to face the years of... really psychological terrorism and abuse that I had inflicted upon my younger siblings. It became exactly that. The ceremony put each of us through our own personal hell. But at the end of it, we shared a single day together that was the most loving, honest and healing day we've ever had as a family. I was sure that everything was going to be fine going forward.
What happened next is what everyone is calling my mom's psychotic break. Alyssa and I headed back to Los Angeles the day following the ceremony. My other siblings and my mother decided to stay and go camping for a few days. When they got back, things were different.
My mom had been talking for a while about what she was calling “activations”. The idea was a sort of energy healing she was proposing, but in actuality they were sexual rites that she wanted to perform in order that she “initiate” people into her group of empowered women (aka new cult). Something was definitely different with my brother when they got back and my mom was extremely manic. Alyssa and I had left to work on post-production for the film and when I got back to my apartment, my mom was lying in my room, in my bed alternating between crying profusely and excitedly talking about all of the things she was going to do as this new “spiritual” leader.
She started talking again about these activations. She also was suddenly very against Alyssa. She believed that my sister's girlfriend had put some black magic spell on her and that Alyssa was now controlled by the dark. She asked me to help her put a death curse on Alyssa (knowing that Alyssa had been facing some personal health issues). We got into an argument which spiraled out of control. She kept switching between these manic states and these deep depressive states. She decided that she needed to “activate” me and told me that she's always found me attractive and that it's not her fault that she finds her children attractive. She then placed her hand onto my stomach and began to slide her hand down my pants. I pulled her hand away immediately. I asked her what she was doing. She kept telling me I was attractive. I told her to leave my room.
She then left my room and said that if I wouldn't join in then everyone else would and we'd be the last ones invited to the party. I don't know what happened when she left my room. I was completely distraught. I decided I needed to get out of there, so I booked a room at a hotel and left. As I was leaving, she was going through all of Alyssa's stuff and completely trashed the entire apartment. She was destroying Alyssa's room and I told my siblings that she needed help, which they insisted that we should let her move through this... that the drugs were probably still in her system and that she was going to come down. I left for the night.
When I came back the next day, things had escalated and were even worse. No one had slept. Everyone was emotionally exhausted and my mother was now naked, running around the apartment breaking things, screaming, throwing trash around... it was absolute chaos. It kept getting worse and worse and worse. She started talking about how she wanted to have a foursome between my sister, my brother and my sister's girlfriend. She kept talking about how attractive her kids were. My sister's girlfriend tried to calm her down at which time my mom put her hands around her neck. My youngest sister needed to get out of there, so I packed up her stuff and took her to move into her new apartment.
When I got back, I was informed that my mother had molested my sister's girlfriend. Alyssa and I wanted to call the police. My brother insisted that we didn't and said he would take her to the airport to get her home. He dropped her off at LAX with her bags and she was supposed to board her flight and go back home. We were contacted several hours later by airport security saying that she had left her bags at security, along with her shoes and had disappeared in the airport. They tracked her down eventually and my brother went to pick her up. Alyssa and I refused to help and continued to ask that we call the police for help. My brother decided to drive her up north and try to get her help. We were informed the next day that she was arrested running through the streets nude after she pulled the wheel and almost killed my brother. She was then detained in a hospital for several days. Our family has not recovered from this. We're now completely destroyed as a unit.
This was the last straw for me. For years I had allowed my abuser to be close to me because she was also abused as a child and I thought we were seeking healing. She abused me mentally, she abused me emotionally, she abused me physically and she abused me sexually. That doesn't change the fact that I love her.
The biggest problem with abuse is that the victims of abuse love their abusers. 99% of my memories of these people are wonderful. 99% of these memories are loving. But 1% are terrifying beyond comprehension. You don't want to see them hurt. You don't want to see them ridiculed. You don't want to “destroy” their lives. But there comes a point that you have to say, “No more!”
The most difficult part about abuse is the mind games. There is a long line of mental illness that runs in my family. I believe it is a symptom of the abuse. The most common attack from the community that we were raised in is to label anyone who steps outside of their systems of control as “insane”. I confronted my grandfather before I moved to Los Angeles about all of this. He screamed at me that I was a liar and my mother was insane. I've spent my entire life wondering if I am just a liar and perhaps I am insane?
Alyssa and I were always labelled as liars. We were always accused of making things up. Alyssa has dealt with this her entire life, the fact that she's never been honest about anything. But how could a little lesbian girl in our community ever tell the truth?
Abuse victims have the hardest time coming out because they understand that their own personal grip of reality is paper thin. They wonder if they imagined it. They wonder if they are making it up for attention. They wonder if their memories are real... A lot them have problems with substance abuse, which further contributes to the confusion.
In my experience, even the abusers tend to block their own memories. Black outs are one of the most common symptoms. They don't know what they did. And when they are faced with the facts, most would rather continue on in denial rather than fess up to what they've done. But the thing that always stood out to me, that I could never deny and in the end gave me the courage to face it is... Why the hell would someone make this up?
I professionally lie for a living. I make up stories, characters, events, interactions, emotions and project them into images and arrange these “fabrications” into a narrative. The scariest thing about all of this is I honestly don't know the actual, historical validity of the images that haunt my dreams, my psyche and my waking life. But there are two facts that I do know with a surety: My grandfather sexually abused my mother... and my mother sexually abused me.
After these events transpired, it took a lot of courage for me to pick up the script for Intimare: A Prologue again. Without the encouragement of those close to me, I never would have done it. I read through the script. I took in the anger, the pain, the isolation... I reflected back on my experiences, my past traumas, the conditions that were presented to me in my life... and this time I saw something different in the Poet (the protagonist of the film). Instead of seeing a monster, I saw in his eyes a young five year old boy. A child who's eyes were filled with only wonder, who's mind was sharp and excited and who's heart was filled with a purity and love that I haven't felt now in 25 years. Shining through the darkness and the pain was a newly lit path to innocence.
With the deepest sincerity,
Bryce J. Lemon