If you’ve been following my blogs, you might know about some of my history and that, typically, I share things to help others via education, information, and the occasional personal story or two. I’ve written about why I couldn’t be the one to leave my abusive marriage and that I grew up with an unstable family, home, and mentally ill father. (I suspect my mother has depression and I KNOW that she has anxiety and possible PTSD, but she would prefer to live with it rather than seek help.) It’s our choice to seek help, but it’s not our fault that we have been abused. No one aspires to have any kind of abusive relationship, it just happens and, as a child, we don’t even know that we’re being abused. Because we don’t know anything different until we learn about it. It’s taught. Love is taught. Acceptance, tolerance, love, they’re all taught, not only given to the ones we love. We show love by word and deed.
Many people who have read that I’m a licensed therapist would wonder why someone who has spent so much time helping people with their sobriety, both getting there and staying there, would say they wish anyone were drunk, but, alas, you may not agree, but you will understand why I am saying this by the end of this blog post. In addition to being in an abusive marriage, after some very careful reflection, I see now that I’ve been abused and/or neglected my entire life by both family and friends, including my friends that were “family”, hence, being diagnosed with Complex PTSD (or C-PTSD). But I have never been abused by someone who was drinking or using substances. When I was younger, I always wished that my Dad was an alcoholic so that I could make the excuse, “he was just drunk”. I hid abuse my whole life from everyone. NO ONE would ever suspect that I was a victim of abuse because I wanted everyone to think that I was so “strong”. I’m going to tell you a secret: Even “strong” people can be abused and bullied.
My world fell apart when I was thirteen and my Dad stormed into a friend’s house on a half-day from school (it was one of my best friend’s and it was a bit of a “party house” because her mom was always working long hours.) There were at least twenty people coming in and out of the house (doing nothing but hanging out) that day from all different social circles. It didn’t take long for everyone at school to know that my dad literally tried to drag me out of the house while I was curled in a fetal position having an anxiety attack. I don’t remember everything, but I do remember that he slapped me in the face and tried to kick me down the stairs with everyone watching. It wasn’t just a personal event, but a completely public event. (I wonder if the Department of Child Services actually would have visited me if we had videos on phones back then.) My world was completely blown apart that day. And everyone knew about it. I wished that I could have said, “he was drunk”, but I couldn’t.
Acceptance of abuse is not something that is taught. Fight, flight, or freeze occurs in the mind when we’re confronted with a situation that is threatening. People only used to consider fight or flight, but freeze has been added because it’s one that can be utilized by our brain as well. These are simple terms to define how our BRAIN reacts to a certain situation, on any given day, with our own past histories and traumas. The reason I present all of these different variables is because they exist and we cannot control how our brain processes a trauma. We could try all three of these in a situation of abuse, I know I have.
The situation mentioned above included all three. I ran into my friend’s house to find safety from my Dad’s wrath. I tried to fight at him (a little) after he slapped me, and then I froze. I tried to go somewhere else in my mind while it was all happening. It didn’t work, for the most part. I still remember friends standing there, frozen, not knowing how to help me. I remember seeing my brother cry, which, I’m sure, was humiliating to him because he could do nothing. I remember a couple of my bigger guys friends stepping toe-to-toe with my Dad and, essentially telling him to stop and his replied warnings and threats. Nothing happened until the police showed up and I was, somehow, down at the landing of the stairs curled up in a little ball.
Someone notified the school’s guidance counselor who called down myself and the friend whose house this where this event took place. We explained what happened (what I could remember from my end), but the counselor never spoke with me alone. She indicated that she would be contacting Child Protective Services that day and that they would want to meet with me and possibly do a home visit. No one ever called. No one ever came. No one ever spoke to me again about it. It would’ve taken one visit with me for them to understand why I was so anxious and panicked all the time, but, it seems, that it wasn’t worth the effort. If you’re a parent or a mental health professional or a human being, report child abuse, even if you’re unsure if it’s emotional. PLEASE report it. Children cannot fight these battles alone.
I always wished that my ex was a drinker because then I could rationalize his behavior (“oh, it was the alcohol”) and MAYBE, just maybe be able to tell someone what was happening at home and stop believing that it was me. I just needed one person to ask me or one person to offer help. One person to know. But I was always frozen about the truth. I repressed so much abuse for so many years, that I now have seizures (PNES) and flashbacks. I told my sister after the divorce, something that my ex used to do to me, in reference to the physical abuse. She then, when we had a fight, did the very same thing to me. It multiplied my need to stay quiet about what had happened to me, therefore, making me more sick later. I wish she was drunk. But, no, she was continuing her lifetime of emotional and physical abuse.
My entire life, every single person has turned me into the problem. When you start learning about Personality Disorders in Grad School or the Wheel of Power and Control (a good place to start when you’re trying to establish what abuse truly is at it’s core) at your night job. (Job 2 out of 3 in Grad School). I spent hours staring at that big wheel in between working with clients in a Domestic Violence Shelter, writing papers, and trying to hide the crying when no one was looking. God literally put that sign in front of me. Big black and white letters outlining every line of abuse happening to me in my marriage. Before I saw that sign, I 1) thought it was my fault that I was making him angry and 2) thought that behavior was pretty normal. God finally needed to drill into my brain; this wasn’t ok.
An almost funny piece of this is that, at the end of our marriage, we were in counseling. The Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) that we were seeing was a faith-based man. A completely clueless and careless “man of God”. He told me to “STOP IT!” when I began to hyperventilate during a session (NEVER tell someone to “stop it” when they’re having a panic attack, it does nothing but worsen the situation), but had told my ex that he needed to create a “safe place” for me at home before that. He knew that I was being abused, yet encouraged us to stay married until I shouted “He’s a monster!” while my husband said, “I don’t care anymore” simultaneously.
The silence after those words filled the air like a thick cloud of smoke. “I think it’s time to file for divorce”, was the great wisdom that our counselor had to offer. Finally. We saw him for eight months or so and he had no wisdom about abuse or what was wrong with my ex (typically, abusive people in a domestic violence situation meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder). Nothing. I still left feeling like it was my fault and that Counselor reinforced the fact that it was my fault. I wish I could say that the counselor was drunk.
I used to wish that everyone in my life was just a bunch of drunks because trying to explain mental illness to a bunch of thirteen year-olds was unthinkable. Or strangers. Or anyone. It doesn’t help anyone understand. The only reason that I understood what was happening is because I was already in therapy. My first panic attack landed me in therapy, where I stayed off and on for the next seven years. You see, if the trend back then had been PTSD, I would have had that diagnosis as a teen, but it wasn’t, it was mood disorders. When I say “trends” of diagnoses, I don’t mean to belittle any diagnosis, I’m just referring to what we are learning about different diagnoses everyday.
At that time, my Dad was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Angry, sad, manic, suicidal…I never knew what I was walking into when I came home from school. Sometimes an ambulance and a cop car. Sometimes being told to pack my shit in a garbage bag, but one thing was certain: I wasn’t out of my mind, it was everyone around me. That was what was reinforced every time I went to therapy. I couldn’t control the chaos around me, only the way I reacted, and I sure as fuck didn’t know the right way to react. It doesn’t mean much when everyone is pointing fingers at you at home in the all the chaos and madness. My therapist was the only one who kept me sane, but, she too, should have have called Child Protective Services at some point.
My Dad has been gone for 16 years now and I am just now trying to come to terms with the fact that he was abusive. Apparently, this is no issue for everyone else in my family, but I thought it was all over once he passed. Our relationship had changed before he died and I miss him like Hell, but I realize now that I have to come to terms with the fact that forgiveness isn’t automatic beyond the grave.
I was so mad at myself after my marriage for being so trusting and open with the man that was my husband. I suppose since I’ve always been the way I am, honest and open, what you see is what you get…I always expect others to be as transparent, despite the way I was raised. However, some people have their own agendas. I could have never have predicted the way my marriage turned out. It was like a bad Lifetime movie, he didn’t change until he had me isolated, both in location and documentation in the way of a marriage license. Everyone always treats me like I’m an idiot when my reply is “No” to the question about “Didn’t you see the signs?”. Umm, that’s not how abuse always happens. Men and women don’t come with flashing signs on their heads that say “Abuser!”, “Abuser!”, “Abuser!”.
As someone who doesn’t often drink and never drinks liquor anymore, I can smell alcohol miles away. “I Wish You Were Drunk” means, in short, I wish I could’ve smelled your mood from miles away. Known what was coming. Seen it. Heard it in the silence. But I didn’t. I’ve been walking blind my whole life. If you feel blind too, leave your story in the comments.
All pics come from FreePik or AdobeStock. Title pic is made using Canva.