There’s a great post on Permission to Live that deals with the lies survivor’s tell themselves about past abuse. It may be an older post but it has some very salient points, namely about how survivors compartmentalize what happened to them. “It wasn’t so bad”, “S/He loved me so s/he didn’t really hurt me”, “I’ve dealt with it so I’m okay”, etc. It sounds a little bit like Cynthia Jeub’s post about how it wasn’t all terrible.
The thing is both are equally true.
It would be a lie for me to say that my entire childhood sucked. It didn’t. But it would be a lie for me to say that my childhood was perfect and that my mother never once hurt me. And trust me, my mother did a lot to hurt me. But it wouldn’t be fair to claim that there weren’t good times in my youth. It’s the differing sides of the same coin. The problem is a lot of people have a difficult time accepting this.
In my case, my life seemed pretty decent: I didn’t have to deal with a sibling of any sort. I had my own room. I had toys, clothes, food, all that sort of stuff. As a teen, my Christmas present was a trip to Disney World. But what a lot of people didn’t see was what happened behind closed doors; no one saw my mother slapping me for the smallest of infractions, no one heard her screaming at me to “do like she had asked me to do”, no one knew the dread I felt when I came home when a report card that might not be good enough to make her happy. (On that last one, I had several classmates who said that they envied me for my good marks in school; I only nearly flunked out of one class and it was an elective math class.) In my mind, nothing I did was ever good enough and I was terrified of making her angry because if I did, I’d have to deal with her.
Dealing with her usually consisted of trying to hide so she wouldn’t hit me. That urge to hide when someone raises their voice is still my first instinct even today.
Yet I have good memories of my childhood, of days spent at the beach and overnight camping trips, of learning to fish and Saturday mornings filled with cartoons. It wasn’t all bad but it wasn’t all perfect, either. To say otherwise would be a lie.
The only problem is that some don’t want to hear the truth, or they would rather hear only the good portions.
To most, it wasn’t really abuse in my case because it wasn’t the extreme stuff. I didn’t have to sleep outside and I wasn’t force-fed dog food. In fact, I honestly thought that the way I was treated was normal, that this was how every family was because this was all I knew. It wasn’t until I was much, much older and started questioning things that the truth came out. It was one of the most liberating, yet horrifying days of my life–knowing that yes, what happened to me was not my fault and no, I wasn’t crazy to feel this way. Since I knew the truth, I began to slowly speak the truth to anyone who would listen.
The truth makes people uncomfortable, I have found. They prefer fantasy over reality, as I’ve discovered.
So yes, while I had good times with my family, I have also endured horrible ones. I may have gotten a hug from Roger Rabbit when I went on my dream vacation as a teen but I’ve also felt the hands of my mother slamming against me. Both memories are true. Both memories are correct.
Both are truth, whether anyone wants to accept them or not.