“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus
I found this while I was on Facebook not terribly long ago; it happens to be a guide to surviving the Grand Nagus’ gaslighting. The author of the piece was abused by her mother and developed some strategies to keep her sanity. They are common sense and fairly straightforward.
However, I had one strategy that served me well when I was a child: a very active imagination.
When I was a child, I was often told that I had it good; my life was storied, blessed. I was a wanted child. I should be grateful for everything that I received. What did I have to complain about? If I was complaining, it was because I was spoiled. Why should I complain about anything? My needs were met, I had a room filled with toys, I had food that I could eat; complaining was just showing the world that I was an ingrateful wretch, too pampered to realize how good my life truly was. My mother was quick to point this out. She was more than happy to point out that she did so much for me and if I wasn’t grateful for all her sacrifices, she let me know it.
Heaven forbid I mention the term “abuse”. I had no idea what abuse really was, according to my mother. She had stories of abuse, stories that would “curl your hair”. Oh, but I didn’t want to report what she had done to any authorities; you see, they would take me away and put me in a place that was somehow worse. Foster care was simply not an option. It was best to stay where I was, where I was “loved”.
It didn’t feel like love. It felt wrong. but I never had the word to describe it. It took years before I could work up the courage and speak it: abuse. It was abuse.
A few years later, while talking with some of my coworkers at work, I mentioned what had happened to me when I was fourteen, how my mother had choked me. He said, “I knew it. When we first met I knew right off the bat that when you was younger one of your parents had done something to you.”
I was floored. To him, it was obvious. To me, it wasn’t.
When I heard him say that, I knew I wasn’t crazy. There was a sort of validation in his words. What my mother had done had affected me and not in a good way. That maybe, I was the way I was because of my childhood.That maybe, just maybe, my ultra cheerful persona was a way of survival, a way to keep myself sane despite the insanity of my formative years.
I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and escapist fantasy; was it because I wanted to escape the life in which I was trapped and felt so helpless, so alone? Any and all fiction I wrote almost always dealt with me leaving my parents, with me walking away from the only place I had ever known to stay with someone else, whether it be the Autobots or Prince Adam’s family on Eternia or in the Whispering Woods of Etheria, where the Great Rebellion was centered or Toontown and 1947 Los Angeles. Was this a not so secret cry to get out, to leave behind my mother and find something better? None of these places existed, none of these characters were real yet I trusted them far more than I ever trusted my mother. I wasn’t afraid of Decepticons or Skeletor or Judge Doom. I was, however, terrified of my mother.
The devils and demons of a fantasy world weren’t nearly as frightening as hearing my own mother scream my name. Those villains could be vanquished. My mother could not. There was no defense against her, no way I could be helped or saved.
I would have rather lived in a fantasy than deal with reality. That’s rather telling, when you think about it. In my youth, I had no power, no agency. But in those fantasies of mine, it was different. I was the one in control and no one could screw with me or there were major consequences.
It sounds crazy but looking back I’m actually pretty glad I had an overactive imagination and was able to dream up those scenarios, as insane as they were. It was those silly, crazy fantasies of mine that kept me from losing my mind, from collapsing under the weight of my childhood sorrows. If it hadn’t been for those survival techniques, as goofy as they were, I might not be here today. You know, there’s something to be said about escapist fantasy and in my case, it was this: it was a lifesaver.