[trigger warning: gaslighting, family abuse]
I almost got a job as bell hooks’ assistant.
Last week, i was hanging out at a professor’s house because she has been letting me do laundry at her place. She is friends with bell hooks and she told me that she was looking for someone to help out with organizing drafts, website stuff, and so on.
A few minutes later, i was sitting in bell hooks’ living room for an impromptu interview. Berea is a weird place like that. I was so nervous and scared about meeting this super important feminist writer and theorist.
Within sixty seconds she had me telling her about my family, and the situation with my mom. She asked me if there was anything worth salvaging with my mom, if maybe one day we would be able to talk again. I said yes, but i was very hesitant.
She told me about a family member who had done some bad shit— someone whom she knew would never be a fully caring and understanding person towards her, but she still wanted to keep that relationship.
Then she asked me a few other things and she had to go.
A few days later my professor told me that i probably wouldn’t be chosen since i can’t drive. She said i could still call and try, though. But i’ve chosen not to.
The truth is, i’m kind of glad it didn’t work out.
Yes, i’m thankful that i am not going to work for bell hooks. Because for the past six months, i’ve had to remind myself, over and over again, that my mother is not a safe person. for the last six months, i have asked myself, “is this the right thing to do?” so many times. But in those five minutes with bell hooks, my doubts returned.
She did not ask me to what extent my mother has hurt me. She did not let me explain that my mother has threatened my life multiple times. She did not let me explain that my mother has tried to stop me from writing about my family’s greatest shame, even though doing so is the only thing that could save me. She did not give me a chance to explain that speaking to my mother for even five minutes is enough to make me want to die. She skipped these questions entirely, and went straight for “but is there anything worth saving?”
And that is where we differ.
When the ideology of “forgiveness” makes the underlying assumption that all people are worth forgiving, when it assumes that no act is too severe, no betrayal too unthinkable to warrant a complete severance of ties— that is abuser logic. Because not all forgiveness is equal. Not all hurts are equal. And the example bell hooks gave me, of her family member, was barely anything compared to what my mother has done. Her assumption that one could equal the other, though made with good intentions, was also abuser logic. Because the essence of abuse is not necessarily “you can’t do this”, or “you can’t do that”— it’s also everything unsaid and assumed. Abuse is not only the active prevention of some options, but the way other options are rendered invisible.
I’m so, so glad i didn’t get that job, because it would’ve been disastrous for me.
I could have worked for bell hooks, but i’m happy I’m not.
[trigger warning: gaslighting, suicide, family abuse]
When I first started this blog three years ago (wow, has it really been that long?), my impetus was frustration. It was Christmas, I had just gotten out of an argument with my mom, and instead of sitting with her for dinner, I was sitting alone in my room. I was angry and hurt and sad, but I couldn’t figure out why. I just knew that this elephant in the room of my brother’s abuse of me had gotten too big, and it was time to start talking about it.
I’d been following Butterfly’s blog for a couple of months, and I saw how much of an impact just knowing that this pain is felt and understood had on myself and others. I was totally lost and I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured I might as well try.
It’s embarrassing looking back on those first posts. I was still trying to figure it out. I was a big mess of feelings, and the right words hadn’t made their connections inside my head; healing from trauma is literally about reconnecting or creating anew synapses and functions in the mind that weren’t there before.
I started out with this selfish need to express my frustration, to yell out into the ether, but with time, this blog, and I, changed. People from the other side of the globe sent me messages about how relieved they were to have found something like this. A teenager who was stuck in an abusive household told me that I saved them. A friend told me that they were happy to know that they had someone they could talk to about these things. So many people have sent me love— many, many times more than the few creeps or trolls.
I didn’t know how to deal with this. I still don’t. I read these messages, and often, I don’t reply, because I don’t know what I should say— everything I can think of seems so insignificant, so inadequate and paltry compared to the connections I experience with you. It’s something beyond words. Often, I leave your words there in my inbox, because I need to see it, need to remind myself that I am doing something useful with my life.
As time passed, and as I continued to get these messages, my need to vent anger and frustration metamorphosed. I realized that I could really do something with this— that it is a cause I care deeply about. I want to someday be an advocate, and write books about this, and help people on a much larger scale. I hope I can get there.
This blog took a turn towards something empowering for myself. And so, a bit impulsively, I made some promises to myself. One, I would never abandon this cause, two, that I would try to be as inclusive as possible, and three, that I would be as honest as humanly possible, and that anyone who was affected by this brutal honesty, by the proper blame and responsibility being put where it belongs, would have to figure it out for themselves. I just couldn’t be quiet anymore. For the first time in my life, I decided to radically accept my own feelings as true and important, instead of shameful, wrong, exaggerated, or an overreaction.
So now I’m here, and I’m not a part of my “family” anymore. Let me explain.
Last October (2013), I shared some materials from this site, and materials I’d written for a scholarship application, with my mom. Since that terrible time when I was fifteen, when she had buried my pain and failed to protect me, we had worked together to patch things up, and slowly became closer. I really, truly believed that maybe, if I kept trying, my mom, instead of being a terrifying person who makes me want to die, could be an actual loving, caring parent.
I was very wrong.
My mother said that she was ashamed and embarrassed of me for doing this, and for sharing it with others. When I tried to explain that I do it because there is a severe deficit of survivors’ voices, and that even one more is a huge help, she refused to believe me.
I tried to reason with her, citing the many, many messages I’d gotten from people all around the world— and that is when something terrible happened.
I said that I’d gotten messages from teenagers, and she called me predatory for believing that kids should be taught about boundaries, consent, and their right to refuse people. She accused me of taking advantage of underaged kids, saying that their parents had the right to monitor and control what their kids read. She said that this content is “not appropriate for kids”.
This didn’t make sense to me— kids experience abuse. Kids deal with consent and rape and abuse all the time. At this point I was in in tears, a big crying mess all over myself, as I explained to her that I write this because I wish I had read these things when I was being abused. Maybe then, I could have stopped it sooner. Maybe instead of five years, it would have been one. Or a month. Or just one time. I cannot imagine the kind of impact, the absurd difference this would have had on my life. Things would be so, so different. Maybe it would still be too much pain to deal with, but at least it would still be less.
I begged her to understand this. I didn’t want to tell her that parents aren’t perfect, and sometimes, they are the ones who do the abusing— so it makes no sense to have these things under their control. I didn’t want to tell her about the times when my brother had censored or covertly hidden materials from me which would have helped me realize I was in a fucked up situation. I begged her to try to understand where I was coming from, and then she said it:
"If you weren’t my child, I would report you to the police."
My mother believed that because I want people of all ages to know that they have the right to their own bodies— the right to refuse unwanted advances, and the right to be safe— that I am predatory. It makes zero sense: When you have a police officer talk about preventing drug abuse, it doesn’t suddenly make him a drug dealer. When you talk about child sexual abuse and how children have basic, human rights, it doesn’t make you a predator.
I realized then that my mother has never, and will never be, the “mom” i have always wanted. I realized that my mother has never seen children, and she has never seen me, as a human being, with basic human rights. I realized that she believes in a concept of total, authoritarian, parental control over children, with children as mere objects or extensions of the parent.
I couldn’t be a part of my family anymore. I knew that one day, I would have to cut off all ties with these people— these people who just happen to share some genetic commonalities with me. They may claim to love me, but I realized that their love is conditional, a mere shadow of what real, true love for another person should be.
The more I thought about my mom as a truly abusive person, rather than simply someone who accidentally and unintentionally enabled my abuse, the more I started to realize that there was a pattern here.
I realized that it was a pattern— and after some reading, I learned that my mother is a classic case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and she may never change. She is capable of love, but only in the shallow, selfish ways that serve to support her fragile ego (such as expressing love through amenities, aka money, instead of trying to understand one another).
I realized that no, most people don’t feel like killing or mutilating themselves whenever they talk to their parents. You’re supposed to feel safe and okay with your parents.
For awhile I tried to fake it. I faked my smiles and my laughter. I thought about Emily Thorne in Revenge, and how funny it is to enjoy someone’s company, but to despise every single thing about them at the same time. I held on to Emily’s symbol, the double infinity. In Revenge, it’s a token from her late father, meaning, “I love you this much! I love you infinity times infinity”; for me, it means, “I have to love myself infinity times infinity. I have to love myself this much, because no parent has ever done it, and no one ever will. I’m the only one who can, so I must.”
I tried to hold out until the end of the semester, so that I wouldn’t have to worry too much about rent or health insurance or other things, but that painful conversation happened in October. By March, I was dying inside— I felt like I was reverting back to the deep, dark place I used to be, back in high school, during those days when death seemed very comforting and easy. I couldn’t do it anymore.
I called the local rape crisis line for the second time— it’s funny, because the first time I called them was in November last year. For months, I procrastinated on calling back during office hours to make an appointment with someone. (It’s really okay. I do it too. This shit is scary.) I met with a great counselor, and we clicked immediately. After years of mediocre therapy experiences, it was such a relief to have someone who knew exactly what I was going through and how to deal with it! She helped me prepare for that one inevitable phone call.
I did it. I said what needed to be said, and then I hung up. I cried bunches, and I ate too much pizza and ice cream, and I played too many video games and watched sad movies. I took walks and I went to poetry readings and I shut myself in and I tried to avoid sleep and bad dreams as much as possible. I’m not okay, but I’m getting there, slowly. For a long time, I avoided writing this post, because I knew that doing so would make it more real; well, here I am now. I’m miserable and happy at the same time, but I feel more like myself, like the person I am supposed to be, than I ever have in my entire life. I’m free, and freedom is completely terrifying, but it’s still better than where I was before.
I am doing this for myself. I’m doing this because I have decided to accept myself, and my feelings, exactly as they are.
I love myself infinity times infinity.
Lots of things to talk about. I am not okay but I will be eventually. Many posts brewing— expect them soon.
Lots of love
this blog is on hiatus for awhile
i don’t really want to talk about the reasons why. it’s hard to explain.
i will never abandon this blog or this cause, but it might be several months until i post again
lots of love ♥
[trigger warning: ableism, allism, child sexual abuse, pedophilia]
I was reading The Courage to Heal the other day and i got to this section where a woman talked about her childhood, and how she felt as though she were Damien, the antichrist child from The Omen. It perfectly encapsulated my problem with the subgenre of horror films featuring evil kids:
I felt I was really evil. It’s almost like those child-devil movies, like Damien. Inside this innocent little child is this evil seed. I used to think that just my presence made people feel bad and made bad things happen.
This woman, as a girl, internalized that model for self-hate, justifying and excusing the abuse she suffered.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, there was this massive deluge of media about parents having to raise their violent and threatening children, with very little voice given to the children (or now grown up adults) themselves. We heard tons about how these parents suffered, but almost nothing from the kids who, facing difficult communication skills, social isolation/stigma, and sometimes physical illness as well, surely must be suffering as much as, if not even more than, their parents. Adults can at least express their pain and find reasonable ways to solve it. Young children can’t even find the proper vocabulary.
Study after study has disproven the myth that people with mental illness are extremely violent and dangerous— in fact, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence at the hands of others. When you throw in the powerlessness of age, it’s no surprise that people with disabilities, particularly children, face rates of sexual abuse four to ten times higher than the national average.
It’s disturbing when there are so many extremely profitable films vilifying groups of people who have little power. Sinister, a film featuring evil kids, cost $3 million, but made almost $90 million. In the film industry, a returns ratio that high is almost unheard of. There’s even a few films, like The Orphan, which sexualize (“evil”) children as seductive predators for grown men, effectively endorsing pedophilia.
I understand why evil kids are scary. kids are thought of as innocent, peaceful, happy, and so on. The evil child trope plays at parental insecurities by turning the power dynamic on its head, giving the child lots of physical power while removing the parent’s. You could argue that in many of these films, the kid is under an evil, external influence, but the end result is still that we see 100% evil kid, and 0% victim to be understood.
This trope is every parent’s worst nightmare, but because these films inevitably speak from an adult perspective, they always create sympathy for the adults, not the children. Many survivors of child abuse and child sexual abuse, myself included, would argue that this simplistic view of children is exactly what lets adults hurt us— when children are not given a voice, or their voices are glossed over, the result is epidemic levels of violence against children. There’s even a problem now in which parents who murder or attempt to murder their autistic children are actually sympathized with as victims.
The truth is, I sympathize with “demon children”. I see so much of myself, of my scared, angry, sad child-self, in these movies. They don’t scare me. Sometimes, these films end with the parent saving their kid, which is so utterly boring and unappealing to me. I never had a parent who saved me— I had to do it myself! So when the kid saves the day, like in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, or when the kid becomes a monster and destroys her parents, like in Sinister…I love that. As an adult, now away from the abuse, I can look at these things and enjoy them vicariously. But most adults don’t approach these films from my perspective, and children in particular are vulnerable to internalizing these self-hating ideas.
This archetype worries me. It worries me because for every scary movie I’ve watched (and I’ve watched quite a few) with an evil kid killing her innocent parents, I’ve never once seen a movie where the child is innocent and defends herself from abusive adults. If such movies existed, and garnered as much public attention as their counterparts, then we might have a reasonable debate. But the fact is, it’s an adult’s world, and children have little power. The levels of violence and abuse we see today are not accidental— they are a culmination of many cultural and social attitudes, some of which are enabled by these kinds of films.
[trigger warning: child sexual abuse, rape]
i’ve gotten a couple of messages like this before. I chose it because of the blog that inspired this one— the bluntness and unwavering honesty of that site really helped me understand just how serious my abuse was. it wasn’t “inappropriate touching”. it wasn’t “molestation” or “sexual assault” or a bad day. my brother tried to fuck me.
i needed that honesty. i needed the real, actual name for it. that’s why this blog has that name. i understand if it’s triggering, though— it triggers me sometimes, too. but i don’t think i can change the name. there’s already so much content that tries to soften things. every person has different needs, but survivor lit that is harsh and direct is pretty rare.
[content warning: child sexual abuse, incest, religious shame]
Two relationships ago, I was dating this Catholic girl. like, super Roman Catholic kind of Catholic.
She was the first person I ever got really physical with. Not pre-marital sex stuff but some other things. I was eighteen and in college, away from my abusive family for the first time in my life. In this safe space, a ton of abuse things started to come up.
The physicality of our relationship exacerbated that. And so, one weekend when I spent the night in her room, I woke up on Sunday morning after having a terrible, flashback dream about my brother, who sexually abused me. Like one of those dreams where you wake up and you can still feel what happened in your bones.
I begged her to stay with me, I was so scared. She hesitated and I kept asking her to stay, to skip going to church and just stay with me. Eventually I started sobbing. She apologized, and then she left.
At the time, I rationalized this as God being far more important than any one person. How could my tiny problems compare to some divine entity? And that’s what I said, with full apology, when she came back.
But thinking on it now, I realize that Christianity shouldn’t be like that. It shouldn’t prioritize the rote performance and ritual over actually loving people. Faith can happen anywhere— it doesn’t have to be in a church. And caring for others is one of the most basic parts of being a Christian.
My girlfriend at the time was a wonderful person, but her version of Christianity was kind of fucked up. She had no idea what could have happened to me. I had no idea what I could have done. I had never experienced something like that, and I thought for sure I was going to die.
In the past few months, I’ve been going to church with my mom. It’s the kind of church that wants to lift you up, not shame you for being human. Before this, I had no idea religion could be anything else. Now I understand that my ex’s version of Christianity was like seeing someone get hit by a car on Sunday morning, but saying, “sorry, I have to get to church” instead of stopping to help them.
I don’t want to be a part of something like that. I want to be a part of something that is human and heartfelt and caring, not so dedicated to routine and a set of constricting rules that being a person is second to some judgmental god. That doesn’t make sense to me. Why participate in something that hurts other people so much?
[trigger warning: suicidal ideation, some description of panic attacks, dissociation]
I had a panic attack recently. Not because something bad happened, but because something good did.
For a few moments, I didn’t want to die. I didn’t know this was possible, because that feeling— not even a desire for self-destruction, but a constant, dull lingering need to disappear— has always lurked there.
I understand now that I have always wanted to die. Every second of every day, I want to die. There is too much pain in this world, in my world. When I laugh with my friends, I want to die. When I eat my favorite foods, I want to die. When I listen to music that has saved my life over and over again, I want to die. When I hear cats purr, I want to die. When I hug my best friend, I want to die.
Until last week, I couldn’t recall a time in my life when I didn’t want to disappear. It was background noise— a state of normalcy, neutrality.
I spent last week with a new friend from a writing retreat. On Wednesday, at an open mic, she read a prose poem which made me forget to breathe. Poems have gotten to me before— sometimes I pause, or I gasp a little. Sometimes the sensation of warmth fills my chest. But never have I forgotten my own existence. Never have I needed to catch my breath, to remember to breathe, at the end.
It was only after this moment that I realized what had happened. Something changed inside of me— some part that I didn’t even know existed.
I call this feeling the Always-Death— because that’s what it’s like for many of us. A lot of times, survival is not about being happy, but rather, about learning to ignore or lessen that state of always wanting to die. It’s about reaching a neutral, zero point where the pain becomes not bearable, but less unbearable.
To have this absence, even for a moment, was too much for me. I thought I would explode. I wanted to laugh and cry and scream at the same time. A sharp tingling filled my body, electric, across my face and arms like frostbite and sunburn at the same time. When you feel something for an extended amount of time, it eventually becomes safe and familiar. You get used to being hurt; to feel anything else is terrifying.
I was scared not because I was happy, but because I wasn’t unhappy. Because contrary to popular belief, much of survival is about cancelling forces, not something beautiful and positive and happy. For a few minutes, the need to die went away. For a few minutes, I caught a glimpse of a life I once thought impossible. I saw a potential person that I didn’t know still existed inside of me— a person without the Always-Death.
I’ve noticed that many survivors (myself included) are constantly stuck in crisis or survival mode. Consequently, we tend to make our decisions based on the immediate future, not a few weeks or months down the road.
This is one of the worst effects of sexual abuse— you lose your capacity for foresight. The pain that you feel in the moment, on day to day basis, is so great and overwhelming that it obscures the future. All of that pain sucks the energy out of you to a point where deciding beyond the present begins to feel like a luxury. In disability circles, this is described as a lack of “spoons”, an abstract unit which represents your daily emotional/physical capacity; PTSD can certainly fall into the category of such a disability.
But this doesn’t end at limited energy and foresight. When you live with constant pain, your options narrow even further— your decision-making process operates under the primary objective of reducing suffering to zero. That’s neutral ground. Not happiness, not fun, and not laughter— just nothingness.
I’ve been stuck for the last few months because of this desire to find nothingness. My ambitions don’t stretch into the future. My mind struggles to comprehend things like a career track, graduate school, or long-term projects. I can barely think of next week without panicking a little.
To a trauma survivor, the future is like viewing a painting done in pointillism, except up close. The feelings and aftereffects of trauma prioritize themselves on a visceral, magnified level. Trauma becomes the body. The body becomes trauma. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has physiological needs as the first level for a reason— when the self feels that it is in danger, concepts like finding happiness or having fun take a backseat to the immediate crisis of surviving.
If I want to make my life better, I have to start planning. I have to figure out what I’m going to do tomorrow, and then the next few days, and then the next week, and month, and year. In my entire life, I’ve never felt as though I had the mental and emotional space in my heart to plan. But now it’s the next step, and it’s really fucking scary.
i got several messages similar to this about that post, but i never replied (i am so terrible about timely replies). so thank you and everyone else who sent me a message…that post was definitely up there in the top five most difficult that I’ve written for this blog, but I am so glad I did it, because of responses like this. ♥