Trigger warnings: references (sometimes graphic) to emotional, physical, religious, and sexual abuse; self-injury.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Auriel” is a pseudonym. Auriel blogs at Drying My Wings.
Also in this series: Part One: Growing Kids the Abusive Way | Part Two: Isolation and Ideology | Part Three: Mini-Parents | Part Four: The Sound of a Sewing Machine | Part Five: The Aftermath of Childhood Abuse
Part 5: The Aftermath of Childhood Abuse
Sometimes, I still marvel at how I survived, and am able to function. I threw myself into extra-curriculars, speech, debate, work, volunteering — anything to be out of the house.
I now have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression, and suffer from panic attacks. It’s hard to emphasize just how much stress, anxiety, and pressure I was under. For years, the only dreams I could have were nightmares, and I developed eye-twitches and frequent illness from all the stress. I lived in a constant state of dealing with adult stress, all as a child.
I remember that I wanted to die young as a saint.
Maybe then, people would appreciate my life. Fleeting thoughts like, “You could die,” “You could cut yourself,” “You could kill Mom,” “Life would be better if Mom died or committed suicide,” crossed my mind unwillingly. They were my mind trying to find solutions to an impossible scenario. Of course, they only compounded my shame.
I didn’t know sophisticated ways to self-harm. As a distraction, I’d pick at cuts and bruises, pick and tear off my finger and toenails, or pull out hairs from my head. Starting in elementary school, I decided to become tough so no one could hurt me. I pulled out my teeth too early so they’d hurt, and walked barefoot on gravel or on the blacktop in 100 degree weather.
One day in high school, after a particularly terrible day, I was working in the sweatshop. In my sweaty palm, I held a gleaming, sharp sewing machine ripper to undo hours of stitching. In that moment, I didn’t fear my parents.
I just wanted to hurt, to escape, to get away from it all.
Somehow, I didn’t do it, and managed to keep pretending for several more years that I was ok.
Suddenly, a year into college, some memories hit me. I was floored. Day after day, I would have flashbacks and nightmares. It was exhausting, waking up shrieking into the night, trying to stay awake to avoid the haunting terrors that stalked my dreams, only to be beset by a new round of flashbacks in my waking hours. There was no relief.
I felt like a walking shell, a skeleton.
I remember thinking, “I must be going crazy. I am insane.” The next thought… “Dying has to be better than this, right?”
As soon as I thought that, I kicked myself into counseling.
As an adult, I stood up to my parents and protected my siblings like a mama bear. My parents threatened many times to kick me out for undermining their “parental authority.” I reported to CPS several times. Now, the reportable abuse has ended, my siblings are thriving in private school, and after many years of splitting up and reconcilement, my parents finally legally separated. They are less dysfunctional when apart.
The effects of the abuse don’t leave though.
Among us 5 kids, 4 have been suicidal, 4 have been in counseling, 3 have depression, 2 have run away multiple times, 2 have distorted eating and body issues, and 2 have self-harmed.
And yet my parents still do not see what they did as traumatizing! If these incredible effects don’t convince them, then nothing will.
As for me, I am on track to get a graduate degree. I have a great counselor, am on anti-anxiety meds, and have many coping mechanisms.
I’ve actually grown in my Catholic faith as well.
Having a higher power than my parents or the homeschool community gives me hope. In my darkest moments, I draw on my faith to give me strength.
I know I’m going to be ok. I would tell anyone in a similar situation that it gets better. The memories stay, and the pain doesn’t fully leave, but there comes a time when the pain doesn’t control you anymore. The waves don’t wash you out to sea, and you learn to stand strong amidst the soft ebb and flow of pain and joy.
So, if you’re struggling right now, I know how you feel. It is going to be ok. You will make it through. Reach out and tell someone you trust. It’s ok to need help. You are worth the help.
You deserve the best.
She shook her tresses that were now darkened and saturated with the glistening orbs. The air smelled sweet, as it does just after rainfall. Each inhale was refreshing, rejuvenating, breathing life into her deflated bones. Sliding her feet through the thick grass, she balanced between the property line and the open world. Swiftly, silently, her right foot slipped across the barrier, followed by her left. Her bare toes clutched the asphalt, toeing the grooves.
She felt lost. She was lost. But she had herself.
She had her life. Perhaps it was just a shell and this was all a mystery. Who cared?
The cosmos would go on in its cosmic cycle with all of its boring striped pageantry. All she had to do was breathe. The only important thing was the asphalt, the sweet smell of the rain, and the tug of that straight road.
So swiftly, silently, she stepped into the night.
End of series.