Abuse & Neglect Continue Long After You’re Gone
Or how fucked up the lives of survivors continue to be
Triggers include discussion of child abuse, emotional, physical, and sexual
At 28, I am wise enough to know that I still don’t know a lot — none of us do. What I do know the most is my lived experience, the struggles I’ve been through and how I’ve made it to being older than I ever thought I would be.
I grew up in a single parent household, one that required us to live with Mother’s mother and, at times, Grandmother’s other children. Mother and Grandmother did not ever have a great relationship, stemming ironically from abuse itself. Grandmother was always quick to resort to discipline which took a toll on Mother. I’m guessing this is true for the other children but, as we don’t talk much, I won’t assume.
I was born out of wedlock to parents who were separated before they realized I was in the picture. There are contested points as to when my father really knew I was a thing — Mother says she told right away and he says he didn’t know until I was five and deathly ill, when Mother filed for child support.
The truth is, likely, somewhere in between. I’m sure my father doesn’t want to come off as an asshole, having left a child in a relationship. I’m sure Mother wants to come off as though she told the whole truth right away. Honestly, the part that pisses me off is that I won’t ever know the truth because neither will own their actions.
I’m worth that at least, right?
At some point, Mother snapped. I know that this was before my little sister was born because I have some pretty vivid memories… and, unfortunately, accurate long-term memory.
The most disturbing memory I have in my very early years is hiding in the closet at home, praying and bargaining that Mother wouldn’t find me. We were working on potty training, you see, and I was doing pretty poorly at the whole thing. I was wearing big girl panties and had, unfortunately, crapped them.
What came next is hard to go into, but physical abuse happened. And this happened frequently as a child. To this day, I actually have a really difficult time using the bathroom in unfamiliar places because I always feel like Mother is outside the door, waiting to see if I used the bathroom correctly or if she’d have to ‘discipline’ me again.
I cornered her on this as an adult on two separate occasions. On the first, she claimed she never laid a finger on me and that she was, essentially, a saint for doing so. I must be remembering incorrectly. During the second, she explained that all the parenting books said spanking during potty training was okay and that one had to be as tough as they could on a child to make sure the training stuck. It killed her emotionally, you see, to do this, but it was supposedly for my own good.
Neither of those is true.
Eventually, I fell right into how I was supposed to behave, bathrooming and all.
I would later be heralded for my ability to comply. I was quiet and didn’t speak out of turn. I didn’t make waves or really throw tantrums because I knew what would happen if I did.
It got to the point where I could anticipate what would be asked of me, getting people whatever from around the house as a preemptive measure to please.
Both Mother and Grandmother would culturally appropriate terms to applaud my efforts. When I started learning Japanese, they used 気がつく (Kigatsuku) for this purpose. While the true meaning of this word is to be aware, notice, or realize, they told me that it was a phrase to show that a child practiced filial piety or obeyed family in a positive way. I lived to be what they called a Kigatsuku girl.
To this day, I still have major issues with bringing up anything that could potentially cause conflict. Did someone physically hurt me, even on accident? Not speaking up. Emotionally shit on me? Same. I have a hard enough time asking for things like a normal human being or calling to make appointments. I can speak up for someone else pretty well — just not myself.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m good at fighting over the internet. Get me in person and it’s a completely different story. I’ve been groomed my whole life to shut the fuck up and sit here, looking pretty and making jokes on command.
It’s safe to say that, as an activist, I’ve come a long way since childhood. Still, that shit isn’t something I think I will ever be rid of.
Things shifted when my little sister was born. Instead of dealing with all the abuse and neglect, someone else could share the burden… except that sharing wasn’t exactly what happened.
From the time she was born onward, she was emotionally and physically abused. She didn’t get any leeway for being a baby, either.
The things she faced are hers to share, not mine. Out of respect for her, I will only share a story that I’ve shared in other places before.
Several times when my sister was about this age or so, my mother decided that physical punishment involving her hands wasn’t enough. She turned to a belt — usually the non-buckle end.
But I remember the first time she used the buckle end.
I tried to get her to not hit my sister. I tried to reason with her, but her eyes always got a certain way when she got this way — glossed over, angry, red. I tried to pull back on her arms and Mother pushed me out of the way as she dragged sister into a room with a lock on the door.
She locked me out. As I tried to talk through the door, I heard the clang of Mother taking her belt off the metal shoe hanger on the other side. I cried and screamed and begged.
Instead of hearing the more familiar leather slap, I heard the buckle hitting sister rhythmically. Her screams were something that I will never, ever forget.
I hid and cried in silence, knowing I had done nothing to help her.
Afterwards, I tried to console sister as much as I could, hoping that it would help me console myself, too.
Years later, we confronted Mother about this abuse. She had no recollection of it, supposedly. Those screams haunt me in my sleep and that abuse shaped how my sister sees the world today, but Mother doesn’t remember?
In November of 1993, a few weeks after this picture was taken, I became incredibly ill. At the ripe old age of five, I started my chronic illness journey.
Initially, they thought I was dealing with allergies or reactions. Later on, docs scratched their heads as they figured maybe I had leukemia. With me in the room, they told my mother I had six weeks to live. With aggressive chemo and radiation, they thought, I might make it longer. I was so weak, though, that they wondered if it would be worth it.
It was obvious to anyone who knew how to read test results that I did not have leukemia. While Mother found out what I had and helped to get me a diagnosis, she denied any real treatment I would have been given at the time. Since doctors weren’t down with that, I wasn’t allowed to see them.
For 14 years, I saw no doctor or dentist.
I grew up treating 8s and 9s on the pain scale with Aleve. I didn’t get physical therapy, see any therapists, or learn any ways to cope with my pain. I deal with chronic pain on a daily basis as a direct result of these choices, not to mention the medical and dental bills.
She then pulled me out of school.
She had managed to do what all abusers dream — totally and completely isolate their victims.
When I grew up and began to unravel some of these things, there was an excuse that we didn’t have insurance. When I found that was a lie (and I was double-covered), it was because doctors just wouldn’t listen to her or the money was too much to deal with. Neither of these are true. I’ve spoken to those I saw as a child. They recalled my case but were adamant that they did everything they could within the parameters she had set. The millions of Polly Pockets, Barbies, and other ridiculous toys I had speak to the money situation, too.
If you can pay for toys, you can pay for medical care. I would have rather had the latter, even at the time.
When I was 13, Mother met the boyfriend who changed our lives.
Balkar was a semi-truck driver who delivered to the store she worked at. Post-September 11th, she struck up a conversation with him. As she tells it, she apologized for her fellow white people to this handsome Indian man. She knows that people have been wrongly perceived as Arab and hoped that he wasn’t dealing with that (ironic, as she’s now a Tea Party person, but okay).
By February of the next year, she found out he was married to a woman with endometriosis. Since the wife couldn’t have children, Mother told herself it was okay to help Balkar cheat.
In the interim, he would make jokes about me and my new womanly body. Since Mother was always on speakerphone with him, he knew when we were in the room and would make those jokes directly to me. At one point I asked Mother why this didn’t bother her — “they’re just jokes, honey.”
Soon, though, she did ask him to stop because she was feeling awkward at my reactions. He stopped for maybe two weeks and then started back up again.
One of the early warm days in the Pacific Northwest, I was aiming to head over to a friend’s house while sister was at another’s. Mother asked me to go with her to Balkar’s house roughly two hours away. She didn’t give me a choice, even though I tried backing out.
He got very drunk during the time we were up there. He also got incredibly handsy with Mother. She decided she didn’t want to leave without having sex, basically, and so we went to a motel to ‘sleep’ that night.
I didn’t want to sleep in one bed with them. I had feels that were telling me this was bad. Since she’d groomed me, though, I said nothing. I remained silent as they fucked next to me, thinking I was asleep.
Aside from a whimper, I made no noise as he assaulted me.
Part of me wonders why she pushed so hard for me to go with her — did she have this planned?
I had bruises all over my chest. After a few weeks had passed, I told Mother. She didn’t believe me, but said she would talk to him about it. She still didn’t believe anything happened, she said, but he gave some BS story about having ‘first night’ rules where he grew up and having an affinity for pretty girls of my age as a result. That was enough of an excuse that she bought it.
I begged her to not force me to be around him. Instead of complying, we visited his house while his wife was around. Drunk again (surprise), he tried to stick his tongue down my throat in front of sister. That was the only way Mother began to believe me.
She still kept fucking him and telling me all about the great sex they were having, as if bragging to someone she beat in a contest for this asshole.
I still have dreams of this. I deal with triggers associated with semi-trucks, the smell of beer, shitty motels, even certain sexual acts. This asshole and Mother have robbed me of some great loving in their quest for their own satisfaction.
As I got worse as an adult, she encouraged me to file for SSDI — something that friends who are worse off have not been able to get. She was adamant that I would qualify if she just helped write up my case and if I just pretended a little bit.
This wasn’t the first time she tried to get me to commit fraud or to help her commit fraud. It was, ironically, the first time it would’ve potentially benefited me.
When I told her off over that, she accused me of being an alcoholic. We didn’t talk for months and, even then, had a rocky relationship at best until 2014.
I cut contact with my mother in May of that year, shortly before my wedding. She continued to try to contact me until I sent a cease-and-desist letter in July of 2015. I had, of course, ignored every communication. It was getting so hard to deal with, though — comments from her and her new beau about how I was an awful daughter, a liberal snob, etc.
I have done a lot of work on self-love during the last two-and-a-half years. Still, when my anxiety and depression are high, they tag my PTSD in and I hear Mother telling me these things in her voice. I hear her accusations of alcoholism to someone who maybe drinks once a month. I hear her making the issues I’ve faced with my illnesses into a mountain that she somehow owns.
The story of all the adversity I’ve faced gains her sympathy. If I had gone on SSDI, she could really officially tell people about her poor disabled daughter. If I really did have a substance abuse problem, she could use that for sympathy, too.
Instead, I’ve given her the ultimate tool — disowning her, which makes for a pretty good sob story in and of itself. She tells people that I’ve been corrupted by college and other liberals into believing their lies when, in reality, I just grew up and saw how hurtful she’s been and how toxic she was.
Despite owning my own story, she continues to play a shittastic role in my life.
When I doubt myself, she’s there with reminders of why I’m not good enough.
When I’m in pain, she’s there to remind me how I deserve it somehow.
When I’m trying hard to accomplish something, to create a legacy, she reminds me of how I’m supposed to shut up and please others.
Flashbacks come without warning — during sex, sleep, eating, and more. I try to avoid triggers where I can, but I can’t always. These memories turn me from a bright and bubbly human being to a self-loathing, angry and bitter butthead.
Connections between fibromyalgia and trauma have been made, meaning Mother could have literally caused me to have another condition.
I constantly deal with abandonment issues. I’ve connected with my father, but it’s easy for me to see lies. He has his own family now and I’m not really a part of it, even though they’ve tried to include me in the past. They want to give me the freedom to control how much contact I have, but I want them to be the parental types and do some of that themselves. Because of this, we basically never talk. There’s no manual for how to connect with a parent as an adult and, frankly, sometimes it brings more pain than helping with anything.
My spouse is an introvert. Sometimes my brain reverts back to the days when being given the ‘silent treatment’ was a form of retaliation and I sit here asking myself what I did wrong to hurt his feels. In reality, he is just doing what he does and my brain is the thing that’s messed up.
PTSD leaves me feeling broken. Even when things are going well, all it takes is one word or scent or touch and I’m right back in dissociation land.
I will always be the kid who grew up abused, neglected, and hurt.
I will always be the kid who was sick and not allowed to get help.
I will always be the pleaser, focusing on how to avoid real conflict in some sense.
And that fucking sucks.
Kirsten is a writer and chronic illness/disability activist living in Wisconsin. She runs Chronic Sex which highlights how chronic illnesses and disabilities affect Quality of Life issues such as self-love, relationships, and sex. If you’re interested in helping with this project, please find the project on Patreon or iFundWomen.