This was me before I moved in with my aunt and uncle. Right before the abuse started.
One question I left out of my FAQs is not easily answered. “Why didn’t you fight back?”
As a child, we do not think about where our next meal comes from, the electric bill, rent/mortgage, let alone if the person who is supposed to be handling all that will hurt us. I want to say I knew this intuitively, but it’s something that I wasn’t exactly raised with. My mother never laid a hand on me growing up. However, she had friends who were abusive to their kids. When we were too loud or broke the rules I remember one man in particular would yell at us and punch his son in the stomach. It’s heart wrenching memories. I can still clearly see my friend buckling. I remember doing endless pushups and standing at the wall as punishment. These don’t sound horrible, but it was the psychological threat that loomed. If I mess this up, something worse follows. He rarely laid a hand on me, but seeing it happen to my childhood friend was traumatic.
When I moved in with my aunt and uncle the abuse started immediately. One of the first incidents was a slap. Slapping isn’t seen as child abuse by most, but when it leaves the inside of your cheeks gummy and bruised that is a different story. Disclaimer: ask me and I NEVER think it’s okay to lay a hand on someone. The next episode was the beating with my Tweetie Bird umbrella that I was no longer able to use, it was that deformed. I tried scrambling out of reach, but I was forced onto the carpet by a full grown woman with nowhere to go, kicking and flailing my body in hopes to get away. It’s hard to communicate my thoughts afterwards. I was dropped off at school and forced to pretend nothing happened. Honestly, I was too shocked to think it meant anything. I did not believe this would become my life; I thought each incident was isolated. Not once thinking I need to tell someone.
When people ask me, “Why didn’t you fight back” or they make the ignorant comment of “Oh I would’ve done (list x y and z),” it’s beyond insensitive and frustrating. People say those things as their adult selves with (in my case) twenty-nine years of experience. Remember, I was seven years old when this started. I can tell you that even seven years ago I would’ve done some things differently. That’s because I have more experience and knowledge now. It’s impossible to say what will actually happen when your adrenaline sparks your fight or flight instinct during a situation. For me my flight instinct kicked in. I did not run away per se, but I withdrew inward. My pain tolerance is extremely high because I learned to close myself off mentally to endure the abuse.
Two examples: Several years ago I had a UTI that I waited too long to check. Days after the initial discomfort I woke up at 2am in agony and rushed to the ER where I learned I also had a kidney infection. A year or so after that, I was in a dark place mentally and I (intentionally) cut myself so bad on my arm that I received eleven stitches. To this day I can tell you I didn’t feel a single thing.
People need to take in account the lies, charm, and manipulation that accompany abuse. “I love you so much, why don’t you tell me to stop,” “I never meant to hurt you,” “I’ll never do that again,” etc. Those are the nice excuses. The awful ones were how horrible of a child I was or it was my fault followed by threats of “your ass is grass.” This was the end of my formative years and to be honest, a part of me thought it was my fault. Not to mention the unspoken reasons: fear, embarrassment, and weakness. I had two younger cousins (her biological children) that I wanted to protect. The thought of them being abused drove me to silence.
So yes, my twenty-nine year old self would’ve handled an abusive situation way differently for multiple reasons. The more significant question is what am I doing NOW to make sure the abuse I did endure doesn’t continue to affect my life. This is what I hope to show with this blog. Next posts, I will share the thoughts I still struggle with regarding the abuse being my fault and cutting as a way to release emotional pain, since I believe these two deserve their own conversation.