If you go through my blog and look at the amount of times I update, it’s apparent that I’m not as consistent as I should be. This post is a difficult one for me. I still struggle with being vulnerable, especially when my words are put out there for anyone to see. Hell, I struggle with the topic of this post, period.
I saw Straw Dogs a few weeks ago and afterwards, I was so shaken that I couldn’t go home for a couple of hours. The violence in the last half triggered memories from my past. Although it had nothing to do with what I experienced, my mind started playing personal memories on a loop.
A big chunk of my childhood is blocked out. If Freud was here, he would say that that’s because my unconscious mind is repressing traumatic experiences in self-preservation. There are bits and pieces though, that for a long time, I thought were deserved and normal. Every child gets beaten when they do something wrong, right? Every child is forced to sit in a pitch black bathroom for what seems like hours, when they don’t do what they’re told, right? Every child must be constantly reminded that they’re the worst behaved child and that they’re stupid and will never amount to anything, right? Because otherwise, how are they suppose to learn? WRONG.
It took me a long time to realize that the way I was treated was not normal, was not deserved. I didn’t see myself as a victim of child abuse and even now, it’s a strange concept. I was fortunate to live with my extended family for long periods of time, because that kept me away from my ex-step-mom. My brother, on the hand, was around her until the divorce. He’s always been a quiet person. Shy and reserved. He was a very sweet boy and was always getting picked on, both at home and at school. There are times when I feel guilty for not being there to protect him. I remember one particular incident when we were maybe six and seven and my brother didn’t want to eat the fish sticks she had made for lunch. If you know anything about my brother, you know that he HATES fish and doesn’t consume much meat.
He sat at the kitchen table, pushing his food around his plate for I’m not sure how long, but long enough for my step-mom to lose patience. When he told her he wasn’t hungry, she got angry and grabbed the closest thing within reach: a feather duster with a plastic handle. Grabbing him by the arm, she twisted him around and began striking him. We both were crying and I yelled for her to stop, stop and I’d make him eat. But that only made her more angry and we were soon forced to sit in a windowless bathroom without light for what seemed like eternity. To this day, I get claustrophobic and am terrified of darkened enclosed spaces.
When we hit a certain age, I think our teenage years, the physical abuse tapered down, but the verbal abuse never did. My dad can also be very cruel with words when he wants and his words always were more biting than hers. What hurt more than getting hit though, was being ignored. And an aunt I lived with many times is guilty of that. I remember getting a C on a report card that needed to be signed and she refused to sign it and then ignored me for a few days. I’ll never forget that.
My father has always been a work-a-holic and I was always a daddy’s girl. I’m not sure whether he knew what was taking place in his home while he was working, but I don’t remember ever telling him. Since I was at a different school just about every year, sometimes twice a year, the counselors were always bringing me into their office to “get to know me”. I remember one time being asked point-blank whether my step-mom ever hit me when I did something wrong, and for some reason, I told that counselor, that no, she had never laid a hand on me. I often became a teacher’s pet, but only because they always kept a special eye on me and constantly had me at their desks helping with things. I even remember having lunches with the principal at my fourth grade school quite often. I never thought that any of this was odd, but looking back now, I see that coupled with moving around so often, they probably saw something off kilter. I never told any of them what was really going on.
I tried to tell an older cousin once, but he tried to reason it out and say that I was overdramatizing its (the abuses’) relevance. That made me think that perhaps, I was. I never told any other family members after that.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that I explored my past and the different things I’ve gone through. It wasn’t until this year that I saw myself as a victim. I remember it hitting me at one point and I just cried and cried for that little girl who sat in a darkened bathroom after being struck, because her and her brother were making too much noise, or she hadn’t finished her food, or she had talked back, ect, ect, ect. I was once told that no one in the family liked me, because I was the worst behaved child. That one statement spiraled me into an obsessive compulsion to please every one around me. To be perfect. To be good enough. But I was never good enough, no matter how hard I tried.
I use to think: “Why would anyone want me? I’m damaged goods.” So I kept a wall around me and hid, because who wants someone broken and damaged like me? I remember hitting my little sister while babysitting, because she did something “bad” and that’s how you’re suppose to treat a child when they’re “bad”. I have so much guilt for that, though at the time, it was all I knew; it was my “normal”. I remember relaying the incident to a friend in high school once and her response of “You know that’s not normal, right?” blew me away for a minute. The idea that not all children get slapped and beaten as a form of discipline was planted, but I somehow convinced myself that it was because we deserved it. And so for us, it was normal.
For a long time I had so much hatred for my ex-step-mom, and a whole lot of resent for my family. I understand now that perhaps we were treated the way we were, because that’s how she was treated. Perhaps to her, it was normal. Though I don’t remember her ever hitting my half-sister the way she did my brother and I, her words were just as cutting. What she did wasn’t right and this isn’t a justification by any means, but I’ve come to realize that perhaps she wasn’t aware of the damage she was inflicting. Perhaps she had been hurt too. And that has helped me to forgive her.
Knowing what I know now, I would never use my hand as a form of discipline for my children. I would never bully them or be quick to point out when they do something wrong. It’s not nice and it isn’t respectful. Children need love and respect and balance. I’ve been haunted many years by things that happened when I was only four and eight and twelve, ect. When you tell a kid that they’re worthless, they’re going to remember that for the rest of their life. It’s imperative that parents, grandparents, aunts, cousins, ect, are aware of the implication of their words to others, especially children. Because it’s very easy to have a negative influence on their beliefs of themselves. Children are innocent and susceptible to whatever adults tell them.
It’s taken me a long time to get where I am today, but I’m healing. Finally. I try not to let my past haunt me now. As I said before, I truly thought I was unlovable and that no one was capable of caring for me, because I was damaged and broken– not good enough. But going through things like what I went through and healing and coming out on the other side makes for some really strong, beautiful people. I grew up very fast and have learned things that I might not have, had I not experienced what I did. There’s no justification for the things that happened to me, but I’m thankful for the lessons learned.