Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ask River question #1

"When you were old enough to realize that what was happening to you wasn't normal, that most kids didn't go home and have the shit beat out of them, how did your abusers keep you silent about it for so long? I know when you are a kid and especially when it's your parents who are hurting you, the world really doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But you were being tortured! Did you contemplate telling all the time or was that just too scary to even imagine? As someone who has not been there or done that, I would think that nothing could be as terrifying as what you were already experiencing."

So I'm finally getting around to answering this question I was asked in the comments.  This is a tough one, and I'm struggling to come up with one coherent answer.  This could get long!

First off, as you said, for a long time I didn't really grasp that what happened to me didn't happen to everyone.  Even when I was older, it was just the way things were.  My parents and my other abusers had the mind control stuff down to a science.  It's really scary looking back just how much they had an answer for everything.  I remember so clearly my dad explaining to me what love is and how to be a good daughter.  He told me that the things that he was doing to me...our "special time"....were because he loved me so much.  He said I couldn't talk about it at all to anyone because it would make others jealous that they didn't have the kind of relationship we had.  When you've grown up with that kind of "love", it's hard to question it.  Also, the alternative to that was pain, so I craved that love.  I wanted to be a good daughter more than anything else in the world.  I couldn't see that my parents were doing bad things to me.  When they hurt me I instead saw that I had done something bad to them and I needed to do better.  It was explained to me that young children are egocentric...they see the world as revolving around them.  They also rely on their parents for everything.  So, when their parents do something bad to them, it is easier to understand it as they did something bad than that there is something wrong with their parents.  Because when you're a child if there's something wrong with your parents and you can't count on them, that's way scarier than just thinking you're really bad and constantly causing trouble.  So when I was beaten, I rationalized that I'd messed up again.  When the other stuff happened...the more torture like stuff, I was enduring it to make my daddy proud of me and happy with me, because that's what a good daughter does.  I guess he knew just the right amount of love to give and take away to make me comply.

On top of that, during the really bad stuff it always came with a threat that if I ever told anyone they'd kill me.  I can still see my dad's face (and others) when he spoke those words.  He'd get right in my face, hovering over me, his eyes lit up with....evil (for lack of a better word).  I believed him.  I believed him so much that even in adulthood if I tried to tell anyone anything I would hallucinate figures coming out of walls, dark corners, etc., all coming to kill me.  I didn't trust that anyone could keep me safe from that.  

I did accidentally tell once.  I was in elementary school....2nd grade I think.  I hadn't really gotten good at the acting ok thing, and my teacher caught on that something was wrong.  It got reported and this woman came to our house to talk to me.  I knew why she was there, and I knew I'd messed up bad.  One look at my dad confirmed that.  He had a "you're dead" glare shooting at me in a way that I can only describe as absolutely terrifying.  I knew it was time for my emmy-winning performance because I had to get that lady out of there.  I turned on the charm and talked about how wonderful my parents were and how happy I was until she left.  As soon as she walked out the door, everything changed.  It was like the air in the house changed as the door shut and my layer of safety was gone.  I got it bad that night.  I remember him coming towards me with a type of anger I hadn't seen from him before.  I don't remember much of what happened next but then I remember being on the floor in too much pain to move.  That day reaffirmed for me that telling wasn't an option.  I couldn't let anyone get even the slightest hint that something might be wrong, so I went out of my way to appear like a happy, healthy kid.  It was safer that way.

In all my years of living with my parents, I don't remember ever having the thought that nothing could be as bad as what I was experiencing....mainly because I had no basis for that.  For all I knew if it was that bad at home it could be twice as bad elsewhere.  My parents had told me that no one else would ever love me, and I was lucky they still did even with how bad I was.  They told me horror stories about kids who were taken away from their parents and what happens to them.  I didn't grasp that it wasn't any worse than what was already happening to me because I didn't view what was happening to me as abuse.  It was just life.  So when they said, "Those people get money for kids and treat them horribly," I listened and checked that off as not an option.  

When I finally reached the point that I'd had enough and had to get out of there, I still didn't trust anyone, and especially not anyone with any sort of authority.  So even though I liked my teachers and they'd been helpful to me, there's no way I would tell them because I didn't believe they could stop it.  I thought if anything they'd side with my parents and make it worse.  I definitely didn't trust cops or anyone like that.  Because my parents were involved with drugs (and obviously other illegal stuff with me), I'd been taught from a very early age that cops are the enemy, that they try to break up families and they're out to hurt people.  There was no one that I saw as trustworthy enough and also powerful enough to tell.  I believed that if I told I risked death, even if I knew they couldn't hear me say it a part of me believed that somehow they could.  So I had to be able to believe 100% that the person I told could stop it and keep me safe before they killed me.  But there was no one like that, especially because I thought all adults worked together.  (When you've been hurt by many different adults it becomes harder and harder to believe there's good ones out there.  It starts to feel like even the ones who seem good probably also secretly hurt kids.  It didn't help that my parents and the others were more or less respected members of society, so there wasn't a "type" to look out for).  Anyway, when I wanted/needed to get away, I believed that the only one I could rely on was myself.  So I ran away and hid my situation from everyone.  Eventually I let a select few in because I knew they were the type that wouldn't tell (homeless, on drugs, abusers themselves, etc.).  

It took until well into adulthood before I was able to tell.  My official reason for entering foster care was abandonment.  I got arrested while living on the streets...semi purposefully, as I was just exhausted and couldn't keep going like that.  I told them who I really was and they tried to return me to my parents who refused to take me.  They said that I was a troublemaker who had caused too many issues for them and they just couldn't deal with me anymore.  They had a whole big sob story that made them the innocent ones.  I was ok with that.  I was just grateful to be released from them.  But I still believed they could see and hear everything, so I kept their secret.  

I realized something else as I write this.  Denial was a big part of it all.  As I mentioned earlier I wanted that love from my parents more than anything in the world.  I wanted us to be a loving family.  I wanted to have the life and family that I read about in stories.  So I couldn't really acknowledge what was happening.  Saying it out loud meant that it was true...that there was something very, very wrong with my family and that I didn't have that.  It also felt like acknowledging there was something deeply wrong with me.  If not even my mom could love me, how bad must I be.  When you're young you hear all about how your mom loves you no matter what.  Or at least she's supposed to.  I wanted to be good enough to get that love.  Saying anything was different meant that it...well...was different.  Also, for some reason I had a very very very strong sense of family loyalty.  I'm not really sure where that came from, but I took pride in the fact that I protected my parents.  I took the whole "honor they father and mother" or whatever it is to extremes.  I thought it was a badge of honor that I took pain in their honor and didn't let our secret out.  I don't know it's hard to put into words.  

Anyway I think I gotta stop there...this has been really emotional to write out and I gotta get away from the computer for a bit.  I don't know if what I've written makes sense but it's too painful to go back and edit.  (For some reason writing it isn't so bad, but re-reading my own writing is really really hard for me with stuff like this).  Also you probably noticed I still can't say most of the words for the stuff that happened to me, so I still really haven't learned how to "tell".  I'm much more open than I used to be, especially on here where it's more or less anonymous, but I still can't say the words.  I tried once to make myself say it out loud to someone and I did, but then I proceeded to throw up and be sick for hours.  Ok probably too much information there! lol


Still gotta end with gratitude.  I'm grateful that that part of my life is done and that I'm safe now.  I'm also grateful that I'm able to use my story now to benefit others and be something positive.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thank god for the here and now

I was driving home tonight and a song came on the radio that caught my attention.  One of the main lines of it was "Thank god for the here and now".  I have no idea who it is by or if it's new or old or what, but it caught me in the midst of being grumpy about how everyone (school, work, friends, etc.) is just asking way too much of me right now.  It brought me back to the fact that in that moment there was nothing I could do for any of those people, but how nice was it to be relaxing in my air conditioned car, by myself where no one could ask anything of me, and just enjoying the music.  That moment was a gift...a reprieve from the stress of the day...and I'd almost missed it entirely.  The one time I got to spend without having to stress and I nearly spent it all stressing!

So I have a challenge to put out there for anyone who happens to be reading this.  When you find yourself getting stressed (or even when you're not stressed), take a deep breath and see if you can find something to be grateful for in the here and now.  I'm not a religious person...I don't call my higher power god, so I don't think the "thank god" part is important.  The focus is just being thankful.  If you've read this blog for any length of time you know that my life hasn't always been sunshine and roses.  But I struggle to think of a situation so bad I wouldn't be able to find a little piece of gratitude in it.  (I'm sure such situations exist but I'm choosing not to try too terribly hard to find them because it would just make me depressed).  Really though, with so many of our day to day stresses, there's so much to be thankful for within them.  School is putting so much pressure on me because I nearly have a degree.  Friends are asking for my attention because I've become a person that people want to be around, rely on, and get advice from.  That's definitely not somewhere I ever thought I'd be.  I never even thought I'd have friends!  It doesn't mean I can't also be frustrated/stressed/upset/whatever else, but acknowledging the good parts in there helps sooooo much.  It's amazing how much just taking the moment to appreciate being in the car rather than griping to myself about the price of gas and everything else just calmed my heart and made me feel ok again.  We're just so lucky to have the opportunity to be here and get to experience the world...  I usually hate saying this, but I bet if I can find gratitude in my world that you can too.

In semi-related news, I've had a lot of very hectic here and nows.  As you may have gathered, there is a lot going on in my life.  I'd hoped to get to the "Ask River" question a lot sooner but life has been in the way.  I hope that the person who wrote it sees this and can understand. :)  I am still taking questions too and I promise I will get to them.  (And it hasn't all been bad either...I've had a friend visiting, which was great, and even the things that have really been stressing me out have had good experiences attached too).  

Need I add more gratitude?  I'm grateful for the here and now!  That I have a computer and a blog and a moment to write in it, though I really should be getting ready for bed!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ask River, Part 2

So I just noticed I have A LOT of partially finished posts that I never actually published.  I really do need to work at this blogging thing!  Most of it's just rambling about things though...spending the Thanksgiving holiday with family and having it be intimidating (since I tend to hate holidays) but it going I managed to go from miserable to happy/content (that one's a LONG one cus it's one of my favorite topics.  Fitting with my last post too!....there's one about going to a conference for young people in AA and realizing how horribly intimidated I still am by people my own age because I was so badly bullied as a kid (at least that's my theory for why).  I'm much more comfortable with people older than me or with kids.  I think there was other stuff, but anyway...

Rather than post all of that, since it would be quite the novel at this point and I already have issues with typing too much...I wanted to put up the offer again to make "requests" if you have questions or topics you'd like me to blog about.  It also goes along with what I said in my last post of wanting to use my experiences for good.  It may just be a matter of liking hearing myself talk, but I feel like maybe I can offer some useful insights, either to people who have lived through a similar situation, or people who are helping their kids or others through it.  I'm willing to talk about just about just about anything...abuse, foster care, addiction, the  If it's something that would be helpful to you to know please don't be embarrassed to ask.  I'd much rather write about what will be helpful to someone rather than whatever I happen to be randomly babbling about that day.  So if you have any questions for me please feel free to leave a comment, email me, send me a carrier pigeon, or however else you want to get in touch with me.

I did this a while back and I really enjoyed it (and I think I was at least a little helpful ;).  So yay!  Ready....go!  :)


Well, it's been over a month again so I guess it's time for me to write! lol  Life has been crazy for me.  I'm getting ready to graduate from college.  I'm done with all my classes this semester, then I just need my internship this summer and I'll be done.  Finding the internship has been rough.  At first I didn't think anyone was going to hire me and then suddenly I had different places fighting over me!  That's a nice place to be but it made it very complicated because it was a hard decision to make.  I was going to go to another state for my internship but now it looks like I'm staying local.  That's huge for me because I've never really been one to stay in the same place long.  Usually I go somewhere and hang out until I get bored and move on.  I just don't get attached to places.  But I've now been in my current apartment for almost 2 years!  The last time I was in the same place for that long I was 13!  Granted I did go out of state for a job last summer, but I actually stayed in touch with my friends here and felt homesick.  I don't remember if I posted about it here or not but I was so excited to be homesick.  People thought I was crazy for that but it showed me that I'd actually found a place that makes me happy and people I care about.  (Don't get me wrong, lots of other places I've lived have made me happy too...I haven't moved out of misery or anything.  Actually I've really liked pretty much every place I've lived.  But the way my mind usually works, after a day or two it would be "Ok, moving on...what's next?").  So here I am staying for a full year and not even going away for the summer.  Craziness!  I gotta admit it's a little scary for me too.  Even though getting away from people/places/things hasn't been the reason for my many moves, frankly it's been a nice bonus.  I don't have to stress about relationships if I know there's an end date and I'm leaving.  Now I'm having to grow up and stick it out even when my instincts/defense mechanisms tell me to run.  (The fact that I'm done with classes is messing with all of this too.  I really really really don't do well with big changes, so the sabotaging is definitely happening! I missed almost all my classes last week, even the ones I really like, because I just couldn't get it together to go).

But enough about me.  I've been thinking about something that I wanted to share.  People talk about the cycle of abuse.  I get that idea.  I've forgiven my parents, and a big part of that is because I realize how much pain they had in their lives, and how much they'd had to endure.  I don't know a whole lot about my family history, but I get the impression that there's a long history of children being badly hurt.  I don't know how I was fortunate enough to escape that fate of following in their footsteps.  I have some ideas but honestly the concept terrifies me.  I had good people in my life who kept me sane as a kid and showed me that people do care, and I had people in my adult life who helped me find my way....incredible friends who were there for me even when I really didn't deserve it.  I also worked my ass off.  I believe it was my higher power helping things to align so I could change.  But I have to believe that my parents were also offered that opportunity, because a higher power wouldn't pick favorites.  So I don't know why I was able to change and they were not.

But anyway.  Tangent. lol  I've been thinking lately that it goes way beyond a cycle of abuse and into a cycle of negativity in general.  People who put negativity out into the world, have generally been hurt by some sort of negativity themselves.  I didn't have kids so I never became an abuser, but I sure put A LOT of negativity out into the world for a lot of years.  (Side note: Not having kids wasn't the only reason I didn't become an abuser...considering I ended up choosing to work with kids....but working with kids is easier and less stressful because they go home at the end of the day.  I have no idea what kind of parent I would've been in the midst of my negativity.  I'm lucky I can't have kids).  I unfortunately made a lot of people's lives very difficult when I was younger.  I was mean, I picked fights, I was a bully.  I blamed others for my mistakes and I manipulated and used everyone I could.  It wasn't intentional, it's just the way I was.  I don't say that to try to avoid blame now.  I understand that I messed up badly and am doing everything I can to take responsibility for what I did and make things right.  I'm just saying that I was acting out of the negativity that I had experienced.  The more I look at it, it seems like negativity spreads like a very potent virus.  It can even be something small that starts it.  One person wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and says something mean, if the other person is hurt they may go intentionally or unintentionally hurt others out of their own hurt and frustration.

So with all that said, has anyone else noticed that there seems to be a distinct lack of happiness out there these days?  It seems like everywhere I look people are hurting, struggling, and just generally unhappy with their situation.  I have an amazing group of friends that tends to be very happy, but I feel like we are the oddities.  It feels like everywhere I go people are miserable or trying to hide or push away their pain in one way or another.  It's not that I have some amazing and wonderful situation/circumstances.  I still have a lot of trauma to wade through, and I still struggle with some of the basics of life that I didn't learn growing up.  Not a whole lot has changed externally to be honest, but today I am loving the journey, even when it's hard.  I wouldn't trade my crazy, trauma-filled, messed up life for anything.  It is funny to me how many people I've had in the last year or so tell me they're jealous of my life.  I mean, I think it's worthy of jealousy because it makes me happy, but people approach it like I have this wonderful easy life and that's why I'm happy.  A little part of me wants to tell them the story of my childhood....ya know just for perspective...but I'm really trying not to break in to the victimhood which includes not defining myself by my past.  But people are shocked when I mention time spent in the psych hospital! lol  A part of me does want to attach my story to my present self a little more, just because I see so many people using past abuse not to succeed in the present.  But I can match many an abuse story so I know it can be done.  But again I need to be really careful about comparing my past story to others or putting too much emphasis on it because I really want to be defined by the happy, successful adult that I'm becoming today.  Yeah it only took me an extra decade or so but I feel like I'm finally becoming a grown-up! lol

Ok I keep getting carried away on tangents so I don't know if I've actually made a point here.  I guess my overall thought is just how do we stop these negative cycles from going further?  Whether it's something little like a rough day or something big like generations of abuse.  I work with kids who I know have been hurt already...whether it's by their parents or their environment (poverty, struggling schools, etc.).  Some of them seem like they're right on the edge and could go either way...towards embracing that negativity or going a different direction.  I know it's not as black and white as I'm making it sound right now, but using the virus idea it seems like people can eventually be "cured", or at least made a lot better, but not before they've done a whole lot of infecting of others.  I wonder if true, major change can ever really happen, or if there's just too much pain and negativity already out there.  I have some ideas of what could be done...things like focusing on the good news happening all around us, rather than just the violence and the yucky stuff, because the good really does outweigh the bad by a lot....or taking further steps to bring neighborhoods out of poverty, because it's so hard to stay positive and on the right path when everything around you seems to be falling apart and you feel like no one is paying attention.  And then there's things like what I'm doing, where I'm hoping to have enough of a positive impact on the kids I work with to help counteract the negativity.  I'm not delusional enough to think that my presence in their lives after school is enough to do that, but it's a start.  It gives them something to count on that will consistently be there, and an adult that they know is in their corner.  I know for me even though I was never able to express it as a kid, those teachers that showed me they cared were a huge part of what kept me going!


I say it a lot but I'll say it again.  I'm grateful for my life and this journey I'm on.  I can't believe I nearly threw it all away.  I'm also so grateful that I've reached a point where I can use my experience to help others rather than as the reason I need help.  And I've actually had multiple people coming to me for help so apparently I really do have my shit together, at least on some level!