The Price of Freedom

Perhaps a better title to my previous post, one that addresses some of the encouraging and thoughtful comments it has garnered, would have been, the price of freedom. As national media coverage centers on the serial kidnappings in Cleveland, my previous musings attained a new color after I read this book excerpt from Natascha Kampusch, who, in 2006, freed herself from eight years of captivity she was abducted at the age of 10 in Vienna.

Upon spending eight years struggling to retain her identity in solitary captivity, Kampusch, found that her struggle for freedom would persist. Still a teenager, she was immediately confined to a children’s psychiatry ward where specialists counseled her to change her name, go into hiding and effectively deny her ordeal.

Yet, as Kampusch wondered, “what kind of life is it when you cannot show your face, cannot see your family and have to deny your name? What kind of life would that be, especially for someone like me, who during all those years in captivity had fought not to lose herself?”

Against their wishes, she went public with her story two weeks after her escape and eventually confronted a sensationalist media eager to erroneously dictate her experiences and faced a wave of harassment from strangers besotted with her captivity.

Not only did the past of Kampusch come under criticism, but her decisions after her imprisonment soon became a matter of public scrutiny. Gradually, the sympathy and support she received revealed a scorn and contempt from individuals unhappy with her decisions.  According to her:

What people could least forgive me for was that I refused to judge the kidnapper the way the public expected me to. Of course, the kidnapper had taken my youth away from me, locked me up and tormented me – but during the key time between the 11th and 19th years of my life, he had been my only attachment figure. By escaping, I had not only freed myself from my tormentor, but I had also lost a person, who was, by force of circumstances, close to me. But grief, even if it may seem difficult to comprehend, was not something I was entitled to. I was not permitted to work through my experiences; it was glibly dismissed as Stockholm syndrome.

As the details of her life became increasingly public, Kampusch was lambasted for expressing her private life. It was as if people could not fathom or acknowledge that she had a reality beyond her oppression, beyond the portrait of a damsel in distress foisted upon her. In reading this excerpt, I hazard to argue that it was this same inner, personal reality that allowed her to survive captivity, plot an escape and subsequently confront an intrusive public.  

As far as morality is concerned, the phases of her life before and after her escape indicate—to me, at least—the difficulty of coming to terms with one’s experiences. One must choose between concealing personal history or exposing them to some people eager to vaunt their messianic self-image. Or, at minimum, one must choose between remaining intimate with one’s captors or grieving them in freedom. Ultimately, this decision, whether made consciously or unconsciously, overtly or covertly, requires that individuals decide who they are  in spite of the wishes of other people. It is this demanding, never-ending struggle to come to terms with one’s history that I seek to call the price of freedom.

As Kampusch asserts, “my imprisonment is something I will have to cope with my whole life, but I am gradually coming to believe that I am no longer dominated by it. I survived imprisonment in my dungeon, freed myself and remained intact. I know that I can master life in freedom as well.”

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