When I wrote the “Part 1” to this post, The Invisible Child All Grown up, I honestly was not expecting anyone to read it. When writing a blog, it’s hard to tell which posts will be popular and which will be total duds. So I used it as an opportunity to just pour everything out, raw and unfiltered. It has become the most read post I have written.
Writing that post was in a lot of ways like exorcising a demon. Putting it all into writing, not pretending anymore, seeing how effed up it all was, was oddly healing. Rereading that post now, I can honestly say I don’t recognize who that person was. Everything within it is 100% true, but a completely different person from who I am now.
Personal empowerment and having a voice is how you heal trauma. Getting it all out, speaking up for myself, taking other people at face value and not trying to discern any hidden meaning behind their words and actions; this is how I healed. I don’t know if I’d recommend writing a public blog post like I did. The repercussions of that cold be pretty bad for some people. But I will say that that post was a “ripping the band-aid off” type of event that fast-tracked my healing. After that I found it was so much easier to be real and unashamed.
Since that post, I have been able to repair my relationship with one of my sisters. All I did to repair it was to take the risk to just be real about things that happened and how I felt about them. Obviously growing up together she knew about the things that happened too, but if someone never complains it’s easy to just assume they’re fine or “over it”. She opened up about many many things that I had somehow forgotten but were as equally messed up as the things I could remember. I have always thought of my sister as being “the strong one”, but now I know that strong façade was just a mask to hide her own trauma. My sister has since confronted my mother about the issues in the family. As you can imagine, this has not gone well and it may end up that they become estranged.
Two years ago I moved far away from the family and gave myself a fresh start. This has turned out to be the single best thing I have ever done for myself. My situation was very much like the frog in the boiling water where I had no idea just how toxic things continued to be in the family until I got away from it. Removing myself from the equation also helped to open up my siblings’ eyes to what was going on since things could no longer be blamed on me.
I think one of the issues that keeps adult children tied to the dysfunction of these families is that we tell ourselves “That was when I was kid, but I’m an adult now”. What I didn’t fully realize was that the abuse never stopped, it just changed. The abuse turned into guilt-tripping, criticism, undermining, “forgetting”, and silence. It was harder to point at it and say “this is abuse”.
One thing I’ve definitely learned is that abuse is intentional. It’s not that the person can’t control themselves. They can control themselves better than the rest of us. Abuse is simply a crime of carefully measured opportunity. These people flip-out because they can. Once I got older and a little more empowered, much more likely to call the cops on a family member, the abuse tactics morphed into something you can’t go to jail for. It’s as simple as that. Clearly the “black out” rage fests could have been controlled back then too.
And it’s not just about the victim’s response either. I’ve come to clearly understand that a large part of the equation is how much society is wiling to tolerate as well. Consider that there has been a huge decrease in domestic violence against women because collectively we all decided to start speaking up and saying that is not okay. Obviously there is still a ways to go, but letting abusers know that they will be looked down upon by society is apparently a huge motivator for them.
When I was a child, everyone knew what was going on. We would go to school without lunch, not because we couldn’t afford food, but because my mother chose to neglect us. One time I went into school with shoes that were falling apart so badly that the gym teacher wrapped them up in ace bandages like a walking-cast. She said to me “You tell your mother I said she HAS to buy you new shoes or I’m going to be calling her!” Sure enough that same night my mother bought me a new pair of shoes because she did not want a public shaming.
Something I’ve written about many times on this blog is how I take issue with the spiritual notion that we just have to accept the bad things that have happened to us and forgive our abusers. I take issue because forgiveness is what kept me stuck in a cycle of abuse well into adulthood:
If you look at the “cycle of abuse” chart above, you will see that step 3 or 4 is where the victim forgives the abuser. The cycle of abuse will only stop when the victim is either dead or stops forgiving. In my case, I finally stopped forgiving.
I do think that there is a spiritual lesson here. I think the lesson or collective karma we all bare is to stop staying silent and to take action so that future generations don’t have to keep dealing with this. It doesn’t even take a lot. It just takes a willingness to speak up.
Years ago I was in a department store dressing room trying on clothes. A woman was also in there with her teenage daughter. I could hear the mother saying in a nasty tone of voice things like “That looks horrible! You look ridiculous! You’re much too fat to be wearing that! The clothes are digging into your skin!” I could hear the daughter wasn’t responding. She was just standing there taking it.
When I stepped out of the dressing room booth, I could see that the mother was very obese while her daughter was rail thin. The clothes were not even close to “digging into her skin”; rather they were oversized and baggy on a teen girl that couldn’t have been bigger than a size 0. The look on the girl’s face told me everything. Clearly there was some kind of “Munchausen by proxy” thing going on, but I didn’t say anything. I just walked out while avoiding eye contact.
We’re taught to “mind our own business” and to not “cause trouble”, but I really wish I had said something. Even if me saying something didn’t change anything with the mom, at least the daughter would have been less likely to grow up blaming herself. Maybe she would have thought “Mom’s the bad one, not me”. That alone could save a person years of therapy.
The next time I see something like that, I’m not going to be silent anymore. That’s the real spiritual lesson. That’s the karma we all need to clear.
If you read Part 1 and related to it, I wanted to write this follow-up just to let people know that it really can get better. But I couldn’t have healed without moving away and having the opportunity to finally live my life on my own terms. I have great friends and am absolutely loving my life, but I had to find myself first. A lot of the sad things that used to consume my thoughts I don’t even think about anymore. But I definitely do want to use what I’ve learned to help others. And for that reason I’m going to keep writing and to keep staying visible.