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Life Long Scars – The Lasting Effects Of A Turbulent Childhood

August 18, 2014

*Originally published 9/2013*

If you allow them to, memories can tear you apart, but at some point you need to make a conscious decision as to whether you’re going to let those deep past hurts rule you and grind you into the ground or if you’re going to move on and live. I made the choice when I was 14, almost 16 years ago and below I’ve told my story regarding what happened before and after I made that decision.

I have carried this story with me for many years in silence and I feel that I’m at a point right now in my life where I can finally unburden myself to some extent. I could have written a great deal more, but for now I am sharing as much as I am comfortable with.

This article is about what goes on behind the scenes that so many adults are blind to when a child is being abused at home and bullied in school. Things that a little intervention could go along way to solve.

It is a about me, how I coped and how I came out on the other end of it all.

About My Mother

When she was a teenager my mother was very smart and absolutely gorgeous. She could have done many things with her life if it wasn’t for her deliberately becoming pregnant before her post high school life could begin and being profoundly mentally ill (manic depression). Her illness had manifested long before I was thought of, but her first bad episode came shortly after I was born (19) and then for the rest of her life she undulated in and out of mental stability, sometimes requiring long periods of hospitalization.

She was never able to hold a job for more than a few weeks.I obviously never knew my mother before she started getting hospitalized for her illness, but from what I have been told she was a very different person then from the woman who raised me for 14 years, and I do wish that I could have known that person.

The woman I knew was inconsistent, masterfully manipulative, and dangerously immature. She was also very poorly supervised. Her unpredictable behavior was damaging. It was downright irresponsible that she was granted the sole custody of a child and that she was allowed to maintain that custody. There is no kinder way to say it.

But here’s the thing, I idolized my mother and I was naive as a child ever was. I didn’t realize that her behavior toward me was anything but normal. And I loved her. I loved her more than anyone in the world. She was everything to me and she betrayed my love and trust often, chipping away at my feelings a tiny bit at a time with her manipulations and abuse until it was all gone and I just had to let go because it hurt too much to hold on when there was nothing left to hold onto.

I stopped speaking to her all together by the time I was 21.

To this day there is a hole inside of me where that love used to be. Sometimes the hole is filled with anger but most of the time it’s just empty, and I’m always keenly aware that it exists because I miss what used to be there. I miss it so much that I wish I’d never had it.

About My Father

There is a lot I could say about my father but there isn’t much point except to mention that for reasons which weren’t always his fault he wasn’t around. My parents married when my mother was 4 months along and divorced when I was 1. I saw him on the occasional weekend as well as Christmas and Easter.

He tried to do the right thing and gain custody of me on several occasions and failed.In a nutshell, he and I never had an opportunity to develop a relationship and though he would have been the better parental choice between the two of them he’s still an ass (as I discovered in my teen and early adult years) and I honestly don’t know if he ever had any love for me. In fact, he flat out told me when I was 24 that he has doubts that I’m even his despite the fact that he married my mother when I was on the way and signed the birth certificate when I was born.

I don’t miss him, because frankly, there is nothing to miss.

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The Early Years

The little girl in the photo above loved to sing and she loved to dance. She was inquisitive and clever and she loved to show everyone how smart she was by acquiring facts so that she could randomly fire them out at any person who would listen.

Anyone who spends time with children can tell you that they thrive on consistency and schedules. My mother’s illness made those things impossible for me to have. I learned to not get too attached to anyone because the people who came in and out of my life were always only temporary, including my mother. I learned to be careful and adaptable. I learned to stay out of the way when she was acting odd to avoid being punished for no reason.I lived in a constant state of anxious confusion but I didn’t know any better.

I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to be shipped off to relatives while my mother spent a stint in the mental ward. I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to be exposed to sex and perverse situations from a very early age. I was completely unaware that my father and his family were fighting for me and that there was any other way to live. I had a lot of toys and I wasn’t hungry, so superficially life was good, right?

Well, eventually school comes into the picture and school teaches you a lot about what other people perceive to be normal. School should have been great for me. It was a place where there was a schedule as well as an opportunity to learn and thrive, however instead of being a positive experience, school was where I learned to be ashamed of everything about myself.

It is where my self esteem was beaten into nothing and this started as early as the first grade.

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Elementary School

The little girl in the photo above is so ashamed that her outfit doesn’t match on picture day. She gets sent to school often in clothes that are stained and unwashed and don’t fit. She smells bad, like cat urine and cigarettes and the other children are cruel.She is treated like a dirty thing by her peers, not a person at all. Her shirt doesn’t feel right, she was told it was a gift from her grandfather so she had to wear it. She’s smiling because the photographer told her to but she is also pleased that he let her choose the color splash for the background of the photo since it was never indicated on the form. She chose “rose” because it was the prettiest option with the prettiest name.I remember that event so vividly, mostly because I thought I looked ridiculous and I was embarrassed. I felt that everyone else should have their photo taken except for me because I was unworthy. I didn’t even want to be in the class photo because I thought I would ruin it for everyone else. I am not sure exactly how old I was but I knew that I was the ugliest girl in the class and I really hated the gold embroidery on that shirt.I learned from the first grade that all the other kids were better than I was and that’s why so many were allowed to torment me relentlessly. That is how I rationalized the bullying. I believed that I deserved it because I was an inferior human. I was not a person.I do not mean to imply that every child in my class was awful to me but there certainly were enough bullies and “participants” to make my life hell.

That little girl was afraid to go to school because her classmates would corner her and call her cruel names. The worst of them told her at every sneaky opportunity how fat, stupid and worthless she was. She stayed home from school as often as she could by missing the bus, pretending to be sick and even once deliberately eating bad food to give herself food poisoning. The children broke, ruined or stole any personal possessions she dared to bring to school. They pushed her and spit phlegm in her long hair. They told her she was disgusting and she believed it. No one ever volunteered to sit next to her or to be partnered with her and she felt guilt and shame whenever other children were forced to include her in activities. She would have rather just been alone.

They told her over and over again that she would never have a boyfriend and no one would ever want to have sex with her because she was so fat, ugly and gross. To this day I can’t wrap my head around how such young children were hung up on sexually harassing me but it started at a very early age and continued for years.

I had lost all interest in learning at school, every day was only a trial to be endured. I escaped in daydreaming just trying to survive until it was time to go home. Every year was also battle with teachers who knew I was under-performing, but instead of addressing the root cause of my behavior (bullying) they focused only on the academic and I did only what I needed to do to move forward. My mother never took an interest in my schoolwork. I scraped through every grade, afraid to be smart, afraid to speak because being articulate was also a crime that would get me singled out and it wasn’t something that I could switch off. I receded deeper into myself every year.

The bus ride home was even worse most times because it was less supervised than school was and the goal on the bus was always to be so brutal that they broke me in the half hour it took to get home. It was a game. They taunted me and poked me and made me ashamed to exist. I tried so hard to ignore them and not to cry but sometimes I just couldn’t hold it in anymore and then in front of everyone I snottered and blubbered, still trying so hard to hold it in which only resulted in even louder and more forceful snottering and blubbering. I felt the intense humiliation of every eye on me as they observed and laughed. The worst part was knowing I’d have to face them all over again the next day. The only escape for me was home and home wasn’t much better.

My mother never lifted a finger to stop the bullying. From the moment I stepped through my front door every day the tears came and I cried so hard it hurt. I broke my heart and poured all of my pain into my pillow, reliving the days events until I was numb and I couldn’t breathe. I told my mother everything and she told me every time that they were jealous of me because I was pretty, and that didn’t help at all.

Home life was only marginally better than school. Another reason I was afraid to go to school was because I never knew what sort of mother I would come home to or if she would be there at all. Would she be depressed and sleeping? Would she be supportive and nurturing, or would she cruel? Had she set up some plan to have one of her friends or relatives tell me I wasn’t being a good girl because I was messy? It was a gamble every day, a toss of the dice. I lived in fear and worry all the time. I believed that I was solely responsible for upholding my mother’s mental health because everyone told me to be a good girl for her. I didn’t want her to be hospitalized and that is an enormous burden to bear… especially for a little girl. Trapped, I escaped into fantasy worlds in my mind, playing with dolls and making things with my hands. My imagination and my creativity were my only real, long term companions.

Despite feeling responsible for my mother I admit that I did take every opportunity to not be home whenever possible. I know it’s a contradiction, but sometimes I needed to be a child, because I was a child and with my mother I wasn’t able to be a child. I had cousins who lived close by (mother’s brother’s children) who I played with a lot and sometimes I’d make friends with local kids briefly. I would sleep over my cousin’s house often and occasionally I would spend a weekend with my father, but that sometimes (another gamble) came with a price. The price was that she would invite one of my younger cousins to sleep over my house with her and then when I came home she’d have all of my sheets and blankets bundled up claiming that they peed in my bed. I don’t know if they actually did but it was her punishment to me for not being there where I “belonged”. If it wasn’t my bed it would be that one of my favorite toys was broken which would be blamed on my cousins as well, but I do find it sort of difficult to believe that they could know precisely which broken toy would upset me the most.

At the time I believed every single thing she said but now I know that she was treating me more like a possession than as a daughter. I was hers, I was an object, I was a means to collect child support and welfare. I was a prop. I could only exist as an extension of her. I couldn’t have achievements myself because by myself, I wasn’t a person.

The little girl in the photo above stopped singing when anyone could hear because her mother told her she was tone deaf (which as it happens she wasn’t), you see, her mother wanted to be the great singer in the house (the house of 2) and in her mind somehow, she was in competition with a little girl. The little girl also stopped dancing when anyone could see because her mother told her that it was stupid to try since she didn’t know how.

She bragged to me often about taking ballet as a child (thus making HER a wonderful dancer by default) and I desperately wanted to take ballet for years. She rubbed it in my face that my cousin who was 6 months older than me got to take dance classes and I found out as an adult that at that time my grandparents (father’s parents) had actually been paying for me to take lessons at the local studio… which she never allowed me to attend.

She  was ever attention seeking and would set up well planned manipulations by saying things to me which she later claimed she never said (preferably in front of an audience) or by randomly taking privileges away for no reason, which then made me act out in frustration because I couldn’t make other’s see how two faced she was or make sense of her actions. She would say to anyone who would listen… “See? see what I have to deal with?” So this meant that on top of everything I was coping with I was also a failure, I failed to take care of my mother, I failed to be a good girl and maybe she would need to go to the hospital and it would be my fault and everyone would hate me for not being better for her, even more than they already did. I believed my whole family thought I was a spoiled brat and that my mother was sick because of me. In private she told me terrible things about everyone she knew (some true, some not) so that I withdrew further even from my own family and I felt I couldn’t trust anyone.

She smoked away my child support and seemed to be incapable of spending money wisely on things that mattered like clothes that fit me and nutritionally balanced food. She gave me a lot of toys and showered me in junk food instead. She was typically very careful to give the illusion of a nurturing parent to anyone who might be watching but in private she was again herself. The face she showed the rest of the world was one of a kind and giving person. The shoulder to cry on, the “special” auntie, but that wasn’t who she was when we were alone. She wore that other person like a very well polished mask. I do have to admit that it wasn’t all bad at home but the bad times far outweighed the good because the good times were so fleeting. Also in retrospect, I realize as an adult that a lot of the good times were’t good, I just didn’t know any better.

Quite a few times I remember being taken into counselling when the state was alerted by my father and my teachers who suspected abuse. One time it was because she had forced me to swallow a big mouthful of dish washing liquid because one of her friends suggested it as a suitable punishment if I back talked and it had made me sick for days. (She was extremely impressionable) If I had had the courage to tell these people the truth things could have been different for me from an earlier age but my mother always had warning and coached me not to trust them and not to talk about anything. She told me that I’d be taken away and put in foster care with strangers so I clammed up. I was afraid.

It wasn’t a good situation but I didn’t know there was any other way to be.

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Middle School

Middle school was terrible in a lot of ways but it was also good for me in others.

The girl in the photo above had all her beautiful hair chopped off. Keyword search “Dorothy Hamill haircut” sometime if you want to see what it looked like when I left the hair dressers. It was actually shaved in the back.

That was my mother’s bright idea. I don’t know if it was because she was just jealous of my hair or if she wanted to see what the worst possible haircut on a chubby little girl would be, but at any rate she was insistent that I have a “Dorothy Hamill” so I started middle school (a big step) with no hair and in hand made clothes (this is the mid 90′s) consisting of skirts, turtlenecks and reversible vests (so I could wear the same two outfits for four days a week) because she somehow found the money to have my hair professionally removed but chain smoked away my welfare clothing allowance.

So now I had a boys haircut and I had the most pickonable clothes ever. It wasn’t a great combination but somehow despite all of this, in addition to the continued bullying, I finally made my first in school friends. Having that tiny foundation of support made such a huge difference to my life. I even gained the confidence by the 7th grade to write a letter to my homeroom teacher outlining in great detail how a specific boy had singled me out and was physically and verbally assaulting me every day at my locker. My hands shook as I handed her the letter and she nearly cried when she read it, I remember feeling bad about upsetting her but she made that bullying stop instantly. I felt that I was gaining some control over my life and though my self esteem was still almost non existent, I was developing some confidence and I finally had an adult ally.

I still had no interest in applying myself academically and scraped through grades 6-8 by doing the bare minimum purely based on the fear of being held back. Actually, I did occasionally apply myself just to get under the skin of one girl who sat behind me in social studies class. She would watch everything I did and whisper to me throughout the entire class “you’re stupid” “you’re ugly”. Given the harassment I was accustomed to by others, her efforts were sort of laughable by comparison. She also had a true interest in seeing every graded paper that was handed back to me. I still wonder what her motivation could have possibly been to just spend 45 minutes slipping insults to me. It must have done something for her though because she never seemed to get bored of it. I did discover one day that It crawled up her butt sideways when I got a better grade than she did so occasionally I did make the effort. I guess I was starting to develop a sense of humor about it.

The bus wasn’t an issue anymore because the kids were now all older and not interested in picking on me at all.

Though my school life was improving marginally, things were getting progressively worse at home. I was finally becoming aware of the fact that my home life wasn’t normal and it wasn’t right. I began to stand up to my mother’s contradictions and her manipulations. She didn’t like being called out, and she had many ways of retaliating. I was also getting progressively angrier that no one had done anything about her behavior toward me my whole life.

During this time I started to realize that child abuse was an actual thing and it wasn’t just kids who were being beaten bloody and raped who were the only ones being abused. The way I lived was fundamentally incorrect. Sexual abuse in all of its forms was wrong, families that covered it up or ignored it were wrong. Using religion as a weapon to encourage silence and force forgiveness was wrong. Emotional, verbal and physical abuse were also all wrong.

My mother was at this point a simply miserable human being and I was the designated receptacle of all her negativity. She told me it was because of me that she didn’t have a boyfriend, even though she didn’t actually date, and every man she shamelessly threw herself at (there were many) wasn’t interested. She called me horrible things like “useless sack of flesh”. I got frequent respiratory infections because I was living in a smoke box, and then she would either keep for herself (so she could smoke more efficiently) or give away my prescription inhalers. I tried (as ever) to stay on her good side to avoid her using me as a scapegoat to get attention but it became too difficult, I was fighting a losing battle.

Her biggest new “thing” in my early teens was blaming me for her friends falling out with her. The truth is, the friends she made typically didn’t stick around for very long after they got a good dose of her instability, but she did have a couple that remained for years and the ones that stuck tended to be exactly like my mother. One of these friends who was grossly inappropriate in my house on multiple occasions threatened to kill me in teary eyed rage after I pushed her away from me (in self defense, I was on the sofa and she was pulling an elastic out of my hair) which resulted in a 250lb woman landing hard on her backside. I didn’t push her that hard, she just lost her balance. I felt genuinely threatened by what she said in addition to what I knew about her already. so I told my auntie (father’s sister – my second adult ally) and we went to the police station at which point my mother pretended to support me, but days later she made it clear that she had completely retracted that support. To add insult to injury the woman, after not being friends with my mother anymore “because of me”, befriended two of my aunts which meant she was still always around somewhere in my life. That slap in the face in turn made me feel unloved, unsupported, unwelcome and outcast from my family to an even greater extent than I felt already.

I started having explosive emotional outbursts at home because I couldn’t keep it inside. I was so angry and frustrated that so much was so wrong and no one could see it except for me. My mother (still attention seeking) used that anger against me to “show” everyone how poorly behaved I was. She instigated the outbursts and quietly fueled them. She liked the neighbors to hear. I remember one outburst where I was furiously trying to explain to her why it was inappropriate for her to let her friends (one being the brand new boyfriend of the other) engage in moaning, grinding heavy petting on our couch so that I had to confine myself to my room every day after school for a solid week because I was embarrassed and it made me uncomfortable. They were there, in our tiny apartment from the time I got home until after I went to bed at night and she didn’t want to offend them by telling them to stop doing that in front of me, but they had a chat all the same and laughed about it later. Afterwards all three of them openly mocked me because I was too “immature” to handle what they were doing in my living space. These same friends (17 and 30-something) who were sometimes really nice to me were cruel to me after that incident. They called me names and made fun of my developing body and, my mother, so as to not be left out, joined in. This all finally ended in sexual abuse. I can only guess that it ended because she realized a line had been crossed, but it’s more likely that someone (no idea who) told her it needed to stop because even though she was very smart she wasn’t really one for reaching conclusions about what was and wasn’t appropriate on her own.

On my 13th birthday I was invited to a fundraiser in which my grandfather’s (father’s father’s) band would be playing. I was really looking forward to going as well as spending time with my father’s side of the family. All I needed to do was come home from school and get changed and I was free for the weekend. But it wasn’t going to be that easy because as it turns out my mother had been demonizing me to her family again and she was waiting for me with her mother. They were waiting so that my grandmother could give me a lecture about how it was all my fault that my mother couldn’t have friends. I was selfish and it wasn’t fair for me to drive them away. No one ever asked for my side of anything, they just always believed the worst of me, whatever she told them, and I’d learned to take it because fighting back didn’t work. Previous to this incident I’d tried to tell my grandmother many things and she had witnessed how my mother treated me like a rival instead of a child first hand on multiple occasions, but nothing ever came of it. In fact she told me that my mother and I were as “bad as each other”. That particular incident just felt worse somehow, being cornered in my own home on my birthday.

Another time shortly after that I walked in the door after school and my mother announced, proudly how she’d told her brother (who lived next door) all about my poor behavior and how, since she couldn’t beat me hard enough anymore (I’d gotten really good about backing into a corner in a ball so all she could do was pummel the top of my head) the next time she called him he’d come over and beat me instead. Fortunately I told my father’s sister about that threat as well and she put an end to it immediately.

So school was getting better but home was becoming increasingly unbearable and no one in my mother’s family was on my side as far as I was aware. I was afraid to come forward and I didn’t know who to come forward to. The thing that really scared me wasn’t just not being believed, it was the thought of having my worst suspicions confirmed and finding out that everyone knew what was going on but that they simply didn’t care.

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High School

 

Everything changed for me dramatically between 13 and 14 which overlaps slightly with some events above.

My mother got really sick physically. Her kidneys had failed and she was on dialysis for a long time before receiving a transplant. During this time my father’s sister bought the apartment building next to where I was living and suddenly I got to see a lot of her, my cousins and my grandparents. Eventually we moved into one of the apartments and it was great because the other side of my family were finally allowed to enter my life after being deliberately blocked out so many times throughout my entire young childhood.

I spent a lot of time with my auntie and my cousins staying overnight at their house as often as I could. At home I broke my doorknob so that it only worked one way, that way I could “lock” my door, escape and have privacy as well as personal space. My mother was acting crazier every day. I don’t know if it was because of the changes in her medications or the stress of living with kidney failure, (probably both) but she was definitely in a position where she probably did need to be hospitalized for not being mentally stable but no one was initiating the process. When she complained to my aunt (since she owned the building) that I broke my doorknob my aunt refused to fix it because she supported my adolescent need for privacy. My aunt also knew that my mother tended to give away my possessions when the mood struck her or use my money if she needed cigarettes, so she was also supporting my right to have my own things.

When my mother had her transplant I stayed with my aunt instead of with my mother’s family and the weeks that I lived in my auntie’s home were the best weeks of my life up to that point. I felt safe every day. I felt secure every day. Someone finally had an interest in me and how I was coping. Someone finally had an interest in my academics. I felt loved and cared for and she treated me like one of her own. I wasn’t the odd one out, I was part of the family. Having that sort of emotional consistency was totally foreign to me but I enjoyed it immensely. I’d never known that kind of happiness with my mother.

My auntie got a Polaroid camera and took photos of me then made me look at them. She really made me look at them hard and she made me see, for the first time that I wasn’t unattractive at all. She told me that no one had a right to make me feel the way I did about myself and that no one was better than me the way I’d made myself believe about literally every person on the planet. I rediscovered my pride in being smart. She began the process to build my self esteem up from the nothing it had been reduced to. I wasn’t being bullied as badly in high school as I was in grades 1-8 but she made a phone call, had a meeting and all remaining bullying ended.

In a few weeks I went from feeling that I was a hopeless burden to everyone and that the only alternative to my mother was foster care, to knowing that I was an individual who had value, a future and a family who loved and wanted me.

She knew things weren’t good for me at home and she listened to me. I chose her to open up to because I trusted her. I told her things I’d never told anyone else. She told me that I had to tell someone else about it because she couldn’t do nothing having heard what I told her and put me on the phone with some child abuse line. I told them the truth.

It wasn’t easy to say. It made me sick to say it but it put the ball in motion for my auntie to gain permanent custody of me.

In the year that followed I had to be assessed by a lot of people. It was a difficult time because all of these people want to hear the same things from you over and over again. Things that are private, things that I was embarrassed and ashamed to say. It was like being naked.

I became a ward of the state. My aunt was granted temporary custody for periods of weeks but every time that ran out I needed to be reassessed by people from the state and they told me every time to suck it up and go back to my mother where I belonged. None of them were the slightest bit empathetic. Their job, it seemed, was to just close the case as quickly as possible. I was treated like a cry baby liar. A teenager who wanted some attention. Clearly none of them had a clue what it was actually like to live in that sort of environment only to be saved and told to go back. I was so scared. Genuinely scared, I’d never been so scared in my life as I was at the prospect of losing my safe place.

My mother tried to pin a mental illness on me to explain my behavior, and the psychiatrist I had to see diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with my mother being the root cause. She understandably didn’t like that answer at all since she was completely expecting any diagnosis to work in her favor.

The last time the temporary custody ran out my aunt was forced to give me back when mother threatened to call the police to drag me home, so I went back until my aunt could get me out again but the anxiety was so bad I couldn’t take it and I faked a suicide attempt. I didn’t want to die, I didn’t cut myself badly. I just scratched my wrist with a razor several times, not even enough to scar, it looked worse than it was, but that was the idea. I understand that it was a manipulative thing to do but it was an action born of desperation. I was desperate for someone to listen to me, someone who could actually do something. Two days after my mother found out what I’d done she had me taken to the hospital and the psyche nurse that was sent in to assess me told me that there were little children being sold for sex every day and my life wasn’t so bad so I should suck it up and go back to my mother where I belonged.

I had heard that before, albeit without the guilt perspective part about children being sold for sex, and I told her, absolutely deadpan that if she sent me back to my mother, I’d do it again.

And just like that, I was back in my aunt’s custody. I had to see many counselors, but every one I saw after that point was fairly reasonable. I had to attend joint sessions with my mother where she would cry at me saying over and over that I was hers (an object), that she loved me and most importantly, if I didn’t come back she would lose income. She was distraught, and I accepted that it was my fault, after years of dreading being responsible for her going off the deep end. As much as it hurt me to do it I gathered every ounce of strength that I had and I stood up to her. I was calm and reasonable, she was hysterical. I attended every session and spoke to every person I was told to until finally the court date came up. The final step was dragging my sick, mentally ill mother to court and facing her. It was scary and it was difficult but I did it. I never wanted to hurt her, I just needed to save myself. Every choice that had been made for me my whole life was in HER best interest and finally I had enough, I couldn’t take her crazy anymore, I couldn’t take the drama and well planned manipulative abuse. My father was also there and as per my wishes he signed over his parental rights. The judge was cold but he named my aunt as my legal guardian until I was 18. I remained a “ward of the state”.

Everything has been on an upswing since that day.

The next summer, before school my auntie gave me the whole clothing allowance that was sent through to her (as I was a ward of the state) and brought me to the salvation army. I bought a whole new (used) wardrobe that I chose for the first time in my life and it felt so good. My clothes weren’t stained, they didn’t smell bad and they were mine. She let me be a teenager and I was relatively well behaved. I adopted the goth look because black is slimming, it made me feel confident and all my clothes always matched and coordinated. Contrary to what people thought the image implied I never smoked, did drugs or drank alcohol. I rarely even left the house socially because it just wasn’t a thing I wanted to do or really had time for. My cousins and I bonded like siblings.

When I was 15 I stood up to my first bully and I remember it vividly. He was huge and he was picking on my best friend. I thought I saw tears welling in her eyes and I stepped in. I put my hand in his hair and clenched a fist, grinding my knuckles into his head and pulling upward. It was in the doorway to exit the gym and the bell had just rung so everyone had to walk past as I had a 6ft tall 19 year old man child on his knees clawing at my hand and I didn’t let go until he apologized to her. He threatened to run me over with his car and I laughed at him. It was fantastic. I never again resorted to a physical altercation with anyone. Once was enough.

I took an interest in my academics and became an A/B student almost overnight.

An Apology

When I was a senior in high school someone who had been really awful to me, years in the past approached me out of the blue and apologized.

He looked me straight in the face and sincerely apologized for what he did. He sounded so genuine that I was for a moment rendered completely speechless, then I forgave him.

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September 2013

I have wanted to commit this all to writing for many years but I was hesitant for two reasons. The first is because when people know things like this about you they tend to place you in a category of damaged goods, ignoring everything else about you. A lifetime of experience has taught me to keep my mouth closed because it’s a very real and a very hurtful stigma, however I didn’t just materialize at age 15 when my life changed for the better. I had a childhood, it wasn’t a great one but it’s part of me. I won’t pretend it didn’t happen for anyone. I am not a thing for a label to be pasted onto. I am not damaged goods. I am a Person, and I know that regardless of familial or societal repercussions, if stories like mine aren’t shared then there is no chance it’s going to reach out to anyone to let them know they’re not alone. If I was in the job market I might not dare let this circulate but presently I’m not and I believe that the good publishing this will outweigh the bad.

The second reason was that when my mother was still alive the only power I had over her to keep her from trying to infiltrate my life for all these years was the threat that I would tell EVERYONE everything and it worked. People may say that I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead however, being deceased doesn’t magically make you a better person and it doesn’t absolve you of the damage you have inflicted on others in your life. It doesn’t make all of this and so much more any less true.

Despite everything I do still have empathy for her. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her to live with her mental illness and her extremely limited independence. What I do know is that she was clear headed often enough to make better choices when it came to how I was raised and her behavior toward me, and she never did. She had many opportunities to just tell me once that she was sorry, but saying “I’m sorry it’s your fault” isn’t actually an apology by any stretch of the imagination. I believe that what she was sorry for was the fact that she lost her power over me and that I brought her secret behavior out into the open where she could be shamed by it.

There are many people who still praise her name. I do maintain a few connections to that part of my family and it cuts me deeply every time I see or hear how wonderful she was and how much she’s missed. Every time a photo of her flashes up on my Facebook news feed I feel physically sick and wounded. I wonder if anyone in the world knew the side of her that I knew. I struggle not to take it personally that my feelings are still so grossly disregarded. I struggle to understand how any of them can claim to love me and still love her knowing what she did to me, but I guess I’m happy for them that they have more pleasant memories than I have.

There is a great deal of content that I chose not to include in this article. Painful details, things going on in the background, specific events. People. I could fill a book with everything I didn’t say here if I really wanted to but that’s not where I am right now.

Right now I am a wife who has been happily married to a wonderful man for 8 years. I am the mother of a beautiful, bright child. I have family and friends who care about me. I am a college graduate. I live in a foreign country in a home with the people I love and my creative efforts have reached thousands, all around the world.

I force myself to exit my comfort zone to face challenges instead of hiding behind old trauma and I have done so many things already in my life that at one time I never dared to dream I could ever accomplish.

I. Am. Happy.

With tears in my eyes, it has been beyond difficult for me to write all of this, but I can put my hand on my heart and confess that it is the best therapy I’ve ever had.

The events of my past have helped to shape who I am but they do not define me because I don’t allow them to. I have come too far.

I get through every day like everyone else and I believe that It’s important to recognize that people come from all sorts of backgrounds and they turn out in all sorts of different ways.

Now About Those Scars

Here is the thing about scars… you carry them with you all your life but they fade, they don’t disappear but they lose their angry redness and become a silver whisper of time past. Sometimes they may itch but they’ll never regain their original potency.Negative experiences from my past still do impact my life.

For example,I have a dry, dark, sarcastic sense of humor that tends to take people a while to warm up to.

I laugh so that I don’t cry.

If I hear someone walking behind me I can’t help tensing up in preparation of being hit, pushed or spit on and I usually have to let them pass me

I still cope with vivid nightmares and flashbacks, always about my mother

I communicate best in writing

If anyone hurts someone I love, they are dead to me, there are no second chances, I don’t care who they are.

I am unable to engage in comfortable physical contact of any sort with most people. Even the anticipation of physical contact is extremely stressful for me.

I feel everything, I show very little.

I struggle to form new friendships and I struggle even more to maintain established friendships. I just got so accustomed to letting people fall out of my life that it became habit. A habit that I am at least aware of which is a step in the right direction.

These things are all part of me and I accept them. With each year that passes I get a little better.

People who go through bullying and abuse are often perceived to be weak and introverted but let me tell you, enduring all of that takes strength. It takes enormous strength and anyone who disagrees with that statement is the sort of ignorant that can’t be cured or reasoned with.

Very few people get through childhood and adolescence unscathed. In fact, I think it’s pretty safe to say that no one does. Growing up isn’t easy. I fully acknowledge that there are many people who had it far worse than I did and I am ever mindful that so many people in situations similar to mine were never as fortunate as I was to have someone pull them out and put them back together. I know that these terrible cycles of abuse have a tenancy to repeat themselves over and over again through mean spirited people, abusers and enablers however, having said that, it’s so important to remember that this repetition is absolutely not an inevitability.

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Some Things I Hope You Will Take Away From This Post

 

It isn’t always easy to move forward, but it is possible one small step at a time.

Consider when you encounter that dirty kid you don’t want your children playing with or that annoyingly sullen teenager that you do not know what they’re going home to at night.

Never underestimate the cruelty of children.

Don’t ever just tell a child that other children torment them because of jealousy and leave it at that.

Take steps to stop bullying in school… There is no such thing as “kids stuff” that you can just brush off as growing pains.

If there is a child in your life who might be in a similar situation to the one I was in with an unstable parent, do what you can to be supportive. You can’t assume that they know you care. You don’t have to be in a position to take them in and you don’t need to be intrusive. Just offer them an outlet, take them for pizza. Let them know that you are interested in them and that you’re available to listen. Let them know that they matter.

Be aware that my story is not all that unique or rare. So many children all over the world are living their own version of this nightmare and survivors are coping with their own scars every single day.

Thank You

The response I have had from publishing this article has been truly overwhelming and unexpected.

Thank you everyone so very much for your kind, thoughtful words of encouragement and support.

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From → Ramblings

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