The dust has mostly settled from last week’s family debacle. I’m not done hurting, though. Not by a long shot; but, I’m most certainly done with my “family.” I’m not done because my husband, when he read even a fraction of what was said to me, said, “never again;” I’m not done because I’m hurt just this time. I have, literally, no family left. None.
I’m done because I’m ready to find a way to start the grieving process. I’m done because I cannot allow myself to yo-yo back and forth to an unhealthy environment, hoping that this time it will be different, that this time, I will get what I need, only to be destroyed a little more. It has to be over for good. It’s amazing what health crises do for your outlook on life.
I knew it would take time. But, I didn’t anticipate the fallout. I didn’t anticipate that relatives that haven’t seen me in decades, would come out of the woodwork, just tell let me know what a piece of shit they think I am. No matter how self-assured you think you are, those things ding at your confidence, if only for a minute. They knock you over like one of those inflatable punching clowns; you pop back up, but you most assuredly go down for a second.
So, before I put a nail in that coffin that is my family, there’s something that’s important for me to express, and just get over with. I think these experiences are probably pretty common, and that my situation is not all that unique; so, I share, and I hope that my words continue to reach others who find hope and solace with knowing that they are not alone.
People on the outside, namely people in families like mine, think that the person who finally decides to share is a monster. Like me; they believe that I have no feelings, outside of those that are designed to hurt, or upset people. I’m some kind of maniac that just runs around willy-nilly, at random, hurting people, for some sort of non-purpose, or worse, for attention, that I’m somehow lacking. Or, that people like me do it for something akin to sport, or personal gain. I think it’s probably pretty normal to villainize the one who breaks free; it protects the delusional group-think, and protects the group ideology by having a shared enemy.
“Secrets get in the way because appearance is more important than reality, which means anyone in trouble is left to cope alone.” (Cowann-Jensen, 2012).
But, I’m a person, an individual; I’m not a super-villain. While I know that I can’t make that clear to my family, because they operate under a group delusion that protects their own interests, I can remind myself; or maybe, I can make it clear to someone reading, who understands what it’s like to be in this position. I can make someone who is struggling with similar familial alienation understand that their feelings aren’t crazy.
It’d be nice if, just once, anyone, just anyone, in my family, would attempt understanding my feelings, instead of focusing on their own. It takes a great deal of maturity to do this, to see the world from a perspective, outside of your own. For example, I have thought extensively about why my family is upset. I assume that they are upset that I shook all of their skeletons out of the closet, right in front of the world. They are, likely, humiliated. But, rather than face up, they have chosen to hide and deflect.
In other words - Don’t share the secret! It’s your fault for exposing us, not our fault for the abuse!
“Oh the many ways in which children are made to feel like the abuse is their fault and that there is a price to be paid if they tell!” (unk, n.d.)
The Lash Back – I’m Not Innocent
The best-practice response for my family, or many families like this, has always been that a good defense is a good offense. It’s basically: Rachel said something horrible, so let’s get her. Let’s tell her she’s a piece of shit. Remind her of that one time she did something wrong. I deny nothing. I will always be an open book.
I was raised in a toxic environment, and I did what I had to do, to survive. I was raised in an environment where love was a commodity. My sister and are were sworn enemies from birth, pitted against one another for whatever bits of love that were doled out like crumbs of stale bread to pecking pigeons. We didn’t band together to protect one another from the onslaught of shit; we threw one another to the wolves. It’s not unusual for kids in abusive homes, instead of being protective, to be horrible to one another. It’s a pretty typical pattern, actually.
“In a dysfunctional family, the parents are inadequate or abusive. As a result, there is not enough love available for the children. Sometimes there’s no love at all. This sets up an unconscious competition between the children for whatever love might be available. During childhood, one child might ingratiate themselves to one or both parents in an attempt to get some attention from them. They are simply doing their best to survive in an environment deficient of the emotional necessities of life.” (Sirota, n.d)
I wish it were different; but what’s done cannot be undone. If you were brought up like this, and you’ve done shitty things too; it’s not a reason to think that you are like them, and you are unforgivable. You were part of a situation you couldn’t control. Listen to two monstrous things I did; they don’t make me a bad person. They made me a creature of my environment. Knowing, within moments of doing them that they were wrong, makes me a decent person; knowing that I regret them, every day, makes me aware that I can stop the pattern, that it was that place, not me. Still, I take responsibility for my actions.
Once, I pretended that my sister’s treasured stuffed bunny, Kracker Jacks, had committed suicide to get away from how hateful of a person that I believed she was, pinning a note to its fuzzy chest, and hanging it from her ceiling fan from a homemade noose. I kept telling her, that no matter how much she hugged him, he’d always be dead, “inside.”
Seriously, what a fucked up thing to do. Of course, I wasn’t punished. What a piece of shit thing to do someone. But that’s how we were; I’m certainly not going to say that I behaved like a psychopath, at random though. There was definitely some serious provocation, which I’m sure the joint delusion of my family believes didn’t exist. The difference between me, and them, is that I can see that what I did was wrong; they can’t see anything they did, or continue to do is wrong. At all.
The one and only time that I “hit” her, I jumped over the kitchen table to lunge at her, after she’d rolled her eyes at me, one too many times. I didn’t even make contact, because she scrambled away so quickly. She cried wolf about injuring her foot, and demanded to be taken to the emergency room, where the doctor told her that it wasn’t even a sprain. She spent seven years claiming her injury was so severe that she couldn’t even wear proper shoes. It was a beautiful event for her, because anytime I came to town, it was a way to remind everyone of the time I’d hit her; she limped, wore funky shoes, the whole nine yards. I don’t blame her for the attention-seeking behavior, not one bit. I’d have done it too, if it got me one iota of positive attention and love, especially if it shamed my sister too. Take it where you can get it, sista.
My favorite thing about that day was that when I hit her, I stepped outside, to cool down, knowing, even then, that I shouldn’t have done it. I was greeted by her, now-husband, who instead of comforting her, knew instinctively that he should get the fuck away from the confrontation. I immediately apologized to him; but he said:
“Did that feel good?
“Good. Because she deserved it. Never tell her I said that.”
(Sorry about that broken promise, dude)
I’m sure he’ll deny it, till his dying day, and I expect him to now. If he knows what’s good for him, he still will. My mom told me she had it coming. And, my dad asked me how it felt as well; also, adding that he hoped it’d knocked the bitch out of her.”
We were taught by masters of violence and emotional abuse; and, I’m not so sure that I didn’t hit someone who wasn’t provoking me. However, I shouldn’t have hit her. I shouldn’t have done a thousand little things that I did. But, there are also thousand little things she shouldn’t have done, like locking me in tiny to boxes, knowing I was claustrophobic. N-O-N-E of it was okay. I regret anything that ever hurt anyone, even things I don’t remember; but, I’m not sure that anyone else does.
What’s happening now is that the things that I did when I was a child, in a dysfunctional environment, are being thrown at me, as justification for behavior that’s happening today. Things that I have apologized for, things that I say, “yeah, that was a shitty thing to do.”
I apologize for not knowing how to act and for behaving like the caged animal that I was. I’m not that caged animal anymore. I’m gentle, sweet and tame, because my bars are gone. But, I’m also fucking strong. I got through, and I’m on the other side. I don’t tolerate abuse anymore.
You might say, “but that’s what you are doing; you’re asking them to own up to behavior done in the past.” But, the difference is, I was a child, responding to an abusive environment. They were adults. They bear a very different responsibility than me. Furthermore, they continue to refuse to own up to it, to pretend it didn’t happen, and to continue the pattern in a supremely unhealthy way.
The Other Side
So, I can’t be seen the way I was seen as a child, anymore. It’s damaging and dangerous. I’m not wrong. It’s wrong. None of us can. It’s wrong to be abused, physically, emotionally, and sexually; and then to tell the person that they are wrong for saying that it hurt. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. It’s wrong to ostracize someone for calling out how terrible it was, and is. It’s wrong to shout them down, and pretend that their past wasn’t real. It’s wrong to attempt to shame someone into quieting them down. It’s wrong to pretend they are crazy, in order to protect your collective delusion, and ego. I don’t speak for me alone; I speak for all survivors of abuse and familial alienation.
Most children of childhood abuse grow into adults who continue to be abused. I was abused as an adult, too. I was hit; I was emotionally abused. Once, when I was about 21, my mother grabbed me by the head, and screamed so loudly into my face that it was covered in her spit, “I hope you die.”
So, shout your abuse story from the rooftops; don’t pretend that it didn’t happen. Like most adults, abuse changes when you leave, or when you get bigger. My mom became a needy, soft version of herself, in order to manipulate me, and keep me on a short leash. Call me. Call me. Call me.
“…there are many, many child abuse survivors who are still dealing with daily ongoing abuse. Their suffering is very real and begs to be acknowledged.” (Beisner, 2015)
I can’t fight anymore. I can’t go back again, to have it hanging over my head like an anvil, that there’s a possibility of fighting, ever again. Be with people who accept you, for you, for the rest of your life. Those cheese-ball memes about family not always being blood, they’re true. Find your family; find people who love you and respect you. Find people who you trust. They don’t have to be related to you; because sometimes, those people are the worst for you.
Once, when I was in middle school, I saw an after-school special about a girl who was being abused; so, she went to her school counselor. Suddenly, like magic, she was in a new place, with new parents. It took me a week to get brave enough to make an appointment with my counselor, and when the slip came to my classroom, and they called me down to the office, I had my heart in my throat. Still, I was sure that this would be it, someone finally would help.
I cried through the entire appointment. I could tell that, because I wasn’t struggling academically, she wasn’t sure she believed me. When I got home that night, my mother told me a counselor called, beat the shit out of me, and told me never to embarrass her again. The counselor called me down to the office about a week later to ask if things had improved; it was the last time I asked for help, or exposed our secrets.
But, no more. No one should keep the secret. Not anymore. I’m being ostracized and shamed for speaking out. I’m being dragged over the coals and left with no family. But, I’m not alone:
“According to a new study, half of all childhood abuse sufferers wait as much as five years before disclosing the abuse. In fact, 16% of women never tell, while a full 34% of men keep secret forever.” (North, 2010)
This isn’t a thing that people can just put on a clean shirt and get over. Childhood abuse has shown to affect everything from adult height, to intelligence. It can have lasting effects like depression and even PTSD. I recently freaked the fuck out when my son, just joking around, pretended to pat my bottom with a wooden spoon, for example.
It took me until now to finally ask for help again, to realize that it’s safe, that it’s okay. I’m not hiding anymore. I have my family. I have a therapist, and I have doctors. I refuse to deny the truth anymore, not to anyone. I refuse to pretend that I didn’t have wooden spoons and hairbrushes broken on my behind. I refuse to deny that I wasn’t locked in my room for days at a time. I refuse to deny that I wasn’t lied to, in order to manipulate my behavior. I refuse to deny burns and bloody noses. I refuse to deny any of it.
I hate the pain that this causes. I hate that my family is hurt; but I hate that they hurt me more. I’m thirty-eight years old, and I finally feel strong enough to face it, and take the repercussions, even if it means full detachment. I hope against hope, that someone out there hears this and feels strong enough to walk away from a similar situation that causes them pain. There’s no way to express what pain there is in knowing that my parents don’t choose me. But, then again, they never have.
P.S. I can’t thank the people that have reached out to me, with similar stories, enough. I’m so sorry that you’ve had this pain, but I’m so grateful that you’ve found comfort in knowing that you are not alone. It’s the only good thing that can come of sharing, and it’s why I do it.
The last thing I will say is that this is NOT for my family, who is likely hanging on my every word, waiting for their next chance to become indignantly right. This is for me. This is for you, the hopeful. This is is for the person who remembers being shit on, and is hoping they can get the courage to ignore that next call from their mother, father, or whoever. Do it. You can.