Recovery

Despite the hubub my last two posts on abuse have caused here I am again, talking about it again.Here’s your chance to skip it if you don’t want to hear it. (It’s a long post.)

I ran across this article, a reprint from a 1994 article in Parade, written by a lawyer who deals with defending abused children about the effects of child abuse. It sums things up with a lot more neutrality that I can manage, but this quote pretty much nails it:

Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event. It is designed to reduce a child’s self-concept to the point where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children: love and protection.

The article points out that sometimes this is done on purpose and sometimes subconsciously. I believe it’s primarily the later. A very real example from my own past is a comment on this entry where I talk about being abused. The commenter says (in response to me speaking of the things I remember):

I am sorry for how you feel but i think you should talk with someone that knows really what happened unstead of guess or asume and I really think you should really think and know that it is very rare for someone so young to remember so much.

Do you see how wrong this is? Now, I truthfully did not write that blog (or this one) for any kind of support or sympathy. I have all the support I need from my husband and close friends and family, which is why I can come forward and talk about these things. Honestly “I’m sorry” from people who had nothing to do with the situation, or no knowledge of it, make me terribly uncomfortable because I don’t want these discussions to be perceived as me needing any kind of apologies or reparations especially from people who are not at all responsible for any thing that happened in my past.

But this statement is so filled with passive aggressive venom (not to mention the commenter clearly knows me and my situation, however they never have told me who they are, and investigations on my part have led me to believe they aren’t family on my mother’s side) that it is a very clear, very real example of how the people around me behaved while I was growing up.

“I’m sorry that’s how you feel” immediate indicates how I feel is not what really happened. This immediately puts the person being spoken to in the position of defense and wrongness. But the truth is that you shouldn’t discount emotions. They are irrational and can be destructive and dangerous, but they are there for a reason. Analyzing your emotional reactions to things can be revolutionary. It can show you where there are problems you aren’t ready to face, or issues you really should be looking at. This phrase immediately invalidates the feelings.

The commenter continues with “but i think you should talk with someone that knows really what happened unstead of guess or asume” which is more passive aggressiveness. With this the commenter is telling me 1) I don’t really know what happened in my own life. 2) I am guessing or assuming how the events (that I don’t really remember) occurred. 3) I am also guessing and assuming how I feel. 4) Only “Someone else” could possibly know what really happened.

This is, again an absolutely classic example of how I was treated as a child. My memories, my emotions, my perceptions were never really how things were. I was commonly called a liar and punished for being a liar to the point where there was no sense telling the truth because I wasn’t going to be believed any way, so yes, I did begin to lie to minimize my punishment. (BTW, the other people I talked to who had the same problem, like me, noticed that we were actually believed more when we were lying. Since the lying worked, and saved us from literal pain, like spanking, of course we were taught to lie, as well as being taught that we were not worth listen to. Based on being punished even when we were telling the truth, we learned that either people just wanted to punish us, or we must somehow deserve the punishment, probably for something else that we did, since we hadn’t lied. Therefore I=bad child who needs to be punished and can’t be believed no matter how truthful or obedient I am.)

This approach also taught me that everyone else was more trustworthy and more believable than me, which served to reinforce other things that made me believe I was worthless.

Next, the commenter finishes with “I really think you should really think and know that it is very rare for someone so young to remember so much.” which again says 1) I’m not thinking when I say these things. 2) Gives half-assed “proof” that they are right and I am not, in saying I can’t remember the things that happened in my own past.

For the second issue there I did a totally unscientific survey of about a dozen people (those in the room with me and those who responded online) and every single one of them said they could remember back to when they were about 4 or 5. The events that make me take issue with my mom happened around 7 or 8. And they aren’t really issues, just sad events that were unfortunate.

However, my experiences with my father started with their divorce (and seriously, he showed up at my school took my brother and I out of class, after having not seen us for a while, tried to get us out into the car, but instead was greeted by an armed police officer who drew his gun on my father and my father crouched behind us, told us my mother was lying to us then finally allowed himself to be arrested. You do NOT forget the first time a gun is drawn on you. You do not forget thinking you’re about to see your father shot. You do not forget the drunk, popped eyed, red face look of your drunk father screaming at you while a cop practically begs him to step away from the kids so they don’t see him get shot.) and continued until shortly after the birth of my daughter (just over 5 years ago) when I cut off contact.

I remember these things that happened. My friends remember these things that have happened. Other people, who have no stake in these issues have come to me and shared memories with me and told me that these things have happened.

But, just for jest, let’s pretend that I have complete amnesia and I really do not remember any of these things. Let’s pretend I also don’t remember all the people who told me about their memories (you know, like my sister, who was also there). Let’s just look at my base, gut reactions to people, situations and things.

Again:

Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event. It is designed to reduce a child’s self-concept to the point where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children: love and protection.

And:

But whether as a deliberate target or an innocent bystander, the emotionally abused child inevitably struggles to “explain” the conduct of his abusers—and ends up struggling for survival in a quicksand of self-blame.

And also:

But emotional abuse is unique because it is designed to make the victim feel guilty.

Not to mention:

Emotionally abused children grow up with significantly altered perceptions so that they “see” behaviors—their own and others’—through a filter of distortion. Many emotionally abused children engage in a lifelong drive for the approval (which they translate as “love”) of others.

My own journey through recovery started with me telling myself  “No, I wasn’t abused. I wasn’t beaten. No one told me I was a horrible, ugly, worthless person. I don’t remember anyone raping me.” And then I promptly started with the Excepts.

I wasn’t abused, except I can read the lists of signs of child abuse like a a damn checklist of my past and my feelings. I wasn’t beaten, except I was commonly spanked–with belts, paddles, paddles with holes, almost always by men, and even by my father, bare-assed with a hair brush at the age of 15 with an audience. No one told me I was a horrible, ugly, worthless person, except for everyone who told me I couldn’t possibly remember my own past. Except for my friends in high school whose favorite past time was telling me how fat, ugly, pimply and disgusting I was. Except my father, who didn’t make sure we had basic things, like toothbrushes, clothes that fit, clean clothes, or food.

I don’t remember anyone raping me, except I wake up sometimes as night, after explicit sexual dreams about certain family members and I can’t let anyone touch me and I cry. I used to hide this even from Jason, until one night he woke me up from one of these dreams and I finally told him about them and he said “Sweetie, I think you might want to look into that.”

Some people have said all this is just Jason brainwashing me, that he put it in my head and turned me against my family. But this started that night, three years into our relationship when I woke up from a nightmare and wanted him to hold me while I cried but couldn’t because I couldn’t let him touch me.

Beyond that, I have horrible self esteem. Yeah, I think I’m a good enough writing to put my work out there. Yeah, I think I’m worth good treatment. But underneath that I expect people to always say no when I ask things. I expect to walk out of my door and hear someone yell “Fatty”. When I dress up I expect disgusted recoils. I expect people to see through me, to see how inexperience and unsure I am. To tell me I’m full of shit, and can’t possibly know things. I do not consider myself intelligent, educated, important or capable.

Furthermore, I have tried to sabotage my relationships. I want romance, but it makes me horribly uncomfortable. When people do compliment me I immediately think they just want something from me. Social situations, such as at bars, make me horrible uncomfortable in part because I feel like everyone’s staring at me about to tell me how disgusting and fat I am, and in part because when I am oggled, or someone buys a drink I feel like there is a huge expectation left between us. I feel like I am obligated to exchange something for the attention. I literally feel like if someone takes the time to give me any positive attention that I owe them.

I spent about four years having to explain every purchase I made on myself. It only ended when Jason confronted me and said “Stop it. You are allowed to spend money on yourself.”

I believe in my core that my true role in life is to sit at home taking care of the kids, cleaning the house, cooking the food, serving my husband, getting old, being unhappy and being nothing but a servant to the needs of others. I believed for years that my husband would leave me if I dared to disagree with him. (Jason has fought against this “programming” for years and is only in the last 2 or 3, started to convince me that I’d have to go to some pretty extreme levels to get rid of him.)

I believe in my core that because my family didn’t love me, because I wasn’t a good person to them, that I must be unworthy of love. If my father couldn’t love me, then surely Jason, my children, my friends, can’t possibly love me. I am unlovable.

And when do I feel the worst? When do my stress levels and my instinct go absolutely crazy? When I’m dealing with my father’s side of the family. I cannot even talk to my relatives online without getting jittery and nervous and feeling completely out of control. And despite that I find myself constantly seeking out the approval of these people. I need it (in that core again). I desperately need these people to be proud of me, but of course, they never are.

So let’s pretend that I have amnesia, or that I am mis-remembering the many, many events in my life that have built up to  where I am. Let’s just look at my instincts, my emotional response to certain stimuli. It is not normal. It. Is. Not. Healthy. These are not the responses of a healthy, self assure person. These are the reactions of a person who has been systematically diminished by the people around them. These are the mutated, unhealthy responses of a victim of emotional abuse. This is knowledge any therapist, physician, psychiatrist, or even social worker can tell you indicates childhood abuse.

See the thing is I have a support system now. I am loved now. I am important now. I know what a healthy intimate relationship, a healthy friendship and healthy social interaction is like now. And every year that goes by, every person that I have a healthy relationship with that comes into my life makes the unhealthy, passive aggressive, manipulative, abusive interactions with the people from my past glaringly obvious. I can clearly see the passive aggressiveness in that comment. I can see the bait words. I can see the commenter (I don’t think it’s on purpose, I think this person grew up in the same kind of environment I did and it’s an automatic to react this way. My reason for doing this blog is to show the commenter, and others, the truth of this behavior, what it does to people. In the hopes that if you are subconsciously doing such things you can start to realize that you might want to make an effort to not do so anymore.) trying to undercut my self esteem, my knowledge, my own memories.

And I can tell myself that these things are wrong.

I have been out of the reach of my abusers directly for ten years, indirectly for over five. But I still have to tell myself that these things are wrong. I still have to make myself step away and look at the words. I have to stop myself from grovelling to these people any trying to convince them I’m worthy of their approval.

And the thing is I’m incredibly lucky. I have friends and family now that not only care about me and support me, they stubbornly refuse to let me act on my childhood programming. They call me on it, and put up with my insecurities. A lot of people never get to this point. Believing themselves to be unlovable they pick people like their abusers because they are only comfortable with situations they are familiar with. When confronted by a healthy relationship we are horribly uncomfortable and try to escape because we don’t know how to deal with it.

Earlier, I said I feel obligated to people who give me attention. This is because I don’t understand the selfless giving of attention to me. So I feel the immense pressure to make the exchange sexual, or commercial in nature so that I can understand it. So that it is more comfortable for me.

There are people who never manage to escape this, and never manage to recover from this. This is not something you “get over”. This is an ongoing fight, a continuing process to literally reprogram your own emotions and base reactions to the things around you.

And again, I want to point out that I believe the people who abused me, especially my father, were acting on their own abuse-related issues. I know my father is an alcoholic, which is a nasty thing to fight. It doesn’t excuse a single bit of ill treatment. But it does explain it. As such I do not wish any of these people any ill. I just want to be free of the abuse they have come to represent. I would LOVE to recover with some them, but that is not a choice for me to make.

By speaking out I am attempting to be the support, the questioning voice, for those still out there struggling to come to terms with their own reactions to things. I have no more time in my life to give a rat’s ass for people who have proven themselves to be selfish manipulators who want to keep me a shaky, worthless-feeling and battered subhuman.

By speaking out I hope that someone out there reads this and thinks “Holy hell, I do the same thing.” And then they read It’s Not Normal. It’s Not Healthy. And they get help. Or they question their actions and reactions. Because it’s not normal. And It’s not healthy. But you can recover. You can learn to function normally. But the first step is to examine yourself and to come to terms with what you find.

Recovery doesn’t start until then.

And in closing, here’s a final quote from the article, because this is where I am now, and this is what I have to tell myself when the twitch of emotions and guilt begin.

When allegations of child sexual abuse surface, it is a particularly hideous form of emotional abuse to pressure the victim to recant, saying he or she is “hurting the family” by telling the truth…A particularly pernicious myth is that “healing requires forgiveness” of the abuser. For the victim of emotional abuse, the most viable form of help is self-help—and a victim handicapped by the need to “forgive” the abuser is a handicapped helper indeed. The most damaging mistake an emotional-abuse victim can make is to invest in the “rehabilitation” of the abuser. Too often this becomes still another wish that didn’t come true—and emotionally abused children will conclude that they deserve no better result.