A different kind of child abuse
There’s a scene in the excellent movie Boogie Nights that always makes me cry. It’s when the future Dirk Diggler comes home after being wooed by the porn director and is confronted by his mother. She tells him his girlfriend is a whore, he’ll never amount to anything, and when he starts getting ready to run away screams that he owns nothing, everything is hers, and proceeds to destroy his possessions.
I didn’t have something exactly like this happen to me, but pretty close.
Even since I moved out of the house, I’ve been on a pretty long journey to figure out why I turned out feeling so depressed, suicidal, fucked up, etc. I started unravelling parts of my life and examining them. I had to name certain things that happened to me, which was really difficult. One of these was the fact that I suffered a lot of emotional abuse as a child. People often don’t know what emotional abuse is, or the insideous long term effects it has on a person. The only childhood abuse that gets any validation is sexual or physical abuse. I actually think the abuse I went through as a child is what kicked off my long struggle with depression.
With Christmas coming up I’m remembering a common past time among my mom, uncles, and auntie. All the cousins would be sitting around trying to be happy when one would be singled out for a prolonged ridiculing until they were on the verge of tears. It was bad enough to be abused like that by a group of adults who should know better, but to do it in front of our other cousins made it even more humiliating. Eventually when we had Christmas gatherings, the cousins were just really quiet, sneaking away to socialize with each other then coming back and trying to be as invisible as possible to avoid the annual ridiculing. It wouldn’t work, some kid would be trying to learn to be an individual and have different hair, or unconventional clothes, or piercings, and they would get picked on pretty severely. I’m actually surprised no one flipped out and started wailing on an abuser.
I had a lot of various kinds of emotional abuse happen to me, like being made to feel ugly, being “teased” until I cried and then being told I was too sensitive or that they were only joking. The worst though was when my mom decided I was out of line or was mad at me for some reason. She would ignore me, sometimes for a week at a time. She’d go to her room and not answer when I tried to talk to her, she would sit around in the living room and pretend I wasn’t there, we had completely silent dinners. I would be reduced to writing notes to her and pushing them under the door, and trying to decide between running away or committing suicide. As you can imagine, this all did lead me to have a very suicidal childhood. I didn’t hear of this happening to others until a friend of mine talked about being abused the same way. Both of us were children of single parents, so as you can imagine, being ostracised from the love of the only parent around was pretty shattering to a child. I only had my pets for a constant source of love, and even then they were used in this sick cycle of abuse, she would either threaten to have them put down or to take them away from me.
My only real outlet for talking about my feelings was writing my daily diary entries, which she routinely read and ridiculed me about. As an adult when I started writing in online diaries in order to reach out and connect with people dealing with the same issues as me, she also read my diary and defended her actions when I would get angry by saying if I was writing a diary on the internet it meant anyone could read it, including her. Nevermind that I was writing anonymously and dealing with some pretty heavy issues like her abuse (“you always write about hating your mother”), my sexual assault, various revelations about my sexual interests, trying to do healing.
It was hard enough being abused at home, but school wasn’t any better. Being an abused kid automatically makes you a target for bullying, so I had a pretty shitty school life. I hated school, but I didn’t like home either. I was one of those kids who wandered around alone a lot. Suicide was an escape hatch, I didn’t like my world and I was a kid with no options except to quit life and hope to god there was something on the other side. Later in high school I even seriously considered becoming emancipated.
I didn’t really start healing from my abusive childhood until I left home and found friends I could talk to about these things, cry with, listen to their stories, read about toxic families. I never felt safe confronting my mom about my childhood until I went manic, and then she threw me on a plane back to Montreal and helped get me committed. As you can imagine, I never felt safe confronting her about it again. And in a way, I know it won’t make a difference. She’ll never see her behaviour towards me as abusive, she’ll deny certain things happened, she’ll ridicule me for letting it bother me so much.
Recently she told me she was depressed so I had to be nice to her. I didn’t know what to say. I would like to be nice to her, but then I see certain things she still does that just fills me with anger now instead of sadness. Ever since I started dating as a teen she’s started a long campaign of hating everyone I love and trying to turn me against them. It’s really depressing. One older friend told me she was probably jealous that she would lose my love if I had a sweetheart. But it’s getting to the point where I feel like one day she’s going to make me choose between whatever woman I love and her, and I know I won’t choose her.
The one good thing is that the people in my generation, except for the ones who have become lifelong alcoholics, are pretty cognizant of how we were all treated as kids. We talk about it and try to figure out ways to heal or just to avoid continuing the cycle when we’re parents. We try to avoid the long standing grudges that are rampant in my parent’s generation. I know we won’t be perfect, even I notice myself doing the dreaded silent treatment at times, and I always feel ashamed and try to cut it out.
Maybe the hardest thing about dealing with my past is being saddled with the Crazy label. I was Crazy when I confronted my parents about abuse and neglect, and now that I have a history of hospitalization I know I’m vulnerable to being hospitalized again for stepping out of line or pissing someone off or just going through an emotional moment of healing around events of my past. Anytime I talk about my feelings I’m asked if I took my medication, and when I fly off the handle (something common to abuse survivors and people with rape-related PTSD) I’m accused of being a terrible broken bipolar person. My view of the world is consistently invalidated by the diagnosis given to me by people who know nothing of TLE, abuse survivors, rape survivors, or people suffering PTSD.
And I’m tired of not talking about this just because I’m worried it will hurt my family. They weren’t worried about hurting me. I would hope they would take this information and become more loving, compassionate people with insight into their actions, but I know it will probably be taken as an affront to their parenting skills and me just being mean.
What really made me realize what my abuse was, was when I dated an emotional abuser. She was charming, everyone thought she was amazing, but she was undermining me, invalidating me, taking me to parties with people I didn’t know and then abandoning me, and then eventually telling me I was a horrible lover. She even went so far as to bite me so hard I was trying to punch her head to get her away and ended up with nerve damage in my neck. Luckily I was seeing the emergency suicide counsellor I saw for two years and she helped me see that I had an abusive lover and it wasn’t my fault. I started learning about emotional abuse and seeing how it impacted my childhood.
Once I was talking to a friend who was an incest survivor about my abusive childhood and I was trying to say it wasn’t as bad as somethings that happened to kids. He told me not to minimize my abuse, it doesn’t matter what happened or didn’t happen, if I ended up with bruises or not, it was still abuse and it still had a major impact on who I became. In fact, studies have concluded that of all the types of child abuse, emotional abuse is the worst.
I don’t want to live in a rut caused by abuse, it sucks ass. I want to grow as a person and be capable of love without fucked up shit accompanying it. I think I am. My closest friends tend to be people who have also been abused in various ways, whether they name it or not. I wish my parents could get out of their own rut of abusive patterns. I know they’re only repeating the cycle laid out by their own parents, but I don’t think repeating cycles should be condoned.
This Christmas my wish is that families respect and love their children. I hope that parents realize they simply have the role of responsibly raising an individual who is not their possession and with whom they cannot dictate their life path. I hope that parents encourage their kids to pursue their dreams, even if those dreams seem unorthodox or foolhardy. I hope that at Christmas dinner, someone will engage a small kid in a conversation that doesn’t invalidate or ridicule them, a conversation that will make them feel they can be expressive and respected.
Imagine if kids weren’t abused how different life would be. I think most societal problems can be linked back to the formative years of all of us.