(First off, a head’s up: we’re going to be dealing with abuse, physical, emotional and sexual, in this post. If this bothers you, if you find it too difficult to read, then hop over to the Cats category and take in as many kitten videos as you can handle. It should help take the edge off.)
By now, you’ve heard about David Silverman being fired by American Atheists. As if that isn’t bad enough, the eldest daughter of TLC’s the Willis Family has come forward, detailing her father’s abuse. All of these links are difficult to read.
Even worse is seeing the people defending Silverman. “Due process” and other things, they claim. To them, they didn’t see anything wrong, so nothing bad happened. They only see the public image, nothing more.
Libby Anne weighs in and it is worth the read. But what stood out to me was this:
The perfect family image served to obscure and hide cracks and tensions lurking underneath the surface. Ever since my own experience—watching the contrast between the image my family projected to those on the outside and the far messier reality we experienced and lived on the inside—I have been skeptical of the perfect family image. I have been cognizant of the way image can serve to hide or obscure problems—and of the extent to which that image can be cultivated in an intentional way.
As I read this passage, my mind falls back to that screed and the hollow feeling in my chest as I read S______’s post.
When I started delving into the abuse, it was easily two years after my mother revealed the truth about my family and how I wasn’t an only child, but a younger sister. During that time, I had started the process of mourning but I also started questioning things about my childhood. I had, previously, simply thought of my mother as harsh and strict. I hadn’t really thought what she had done was abusive. For reasons. Or as Calvin and Hobbes put it:
Spot on. But there’s more to it than that.
Abuse can be insidious and hard to define. Abusers know how to keep you confused; when I was younger, I knew that things weren’t normal in my home, but I didn’t know how to articulate it. I found myself second-guessing myself, even though I knew things weren’t right. However, my mother knew how to make herself look like a concerned parent, not an abusive one.
What my friend saw was my mother’s public persona, the one that seemed to be the overly protective but caring sort. What S______ didn’t see was the one that I saw behind closed doors; the persona of the controlling, abusive parent that I knew so well. The private persona that gave me nightmares when I was three years old. The private persona that threatened my pets with abandonment at the pound when I wasn’t “obedient” enough. The private persona that threatened me with violence if she felt I wasn’t listening. The private persona who labeled me as “lazy” because I had trouble with higher level math and threatened me with physical abuse if I didn’t raise my grades in that pre-calculus/analysis class that she insisted I take when I was a senior in high school.
S______ never saw that. She was never privy to any of this. So she got the usual, distorted view of my family that most people got: she got the image and not the reality.
To her, the abuse should have blatant, obvious and severe; unless you’ve been locked outside of the house and forced to eat with the dogs, then nothing too terrible happened. Because she never saw it, never saw the abuses my mother inflicted on me. Because my mother knew how to manipulate that image and make herself look like a caring parent. Nearly every abuser can do this.
Which is why it is not surprising, but devastating nonetheless, to see people defending David Silverman. Since they didn’t see anything happen, they can’t believe that this guy could actually be an abuser, one of the bad guys. Because we all know the bad guys on sight, am I right? But as Libby Anne puts it:
The perfect family image is just that—an image. Not to be confused with reality. Even at its best, reality is inevitably far messier than image.
That is the truth. Reality is not so neat and tidy, truth can be a bitter pill to swallow. It can take months, years, to realize that what you went through wasn’t just shitty behavior, but abuse.
Would S______ have eventually learned this? Maybe. I might have continued with my previous blog had she not tone policed or tried to silence me. I may have slowly peeled back the layers, revealing more of the truth. She may have learned that things weren’t so wonderful behind closed doors. But she can’t look past the image that she had built up in her mind.
If only closed minds came with closed mouths. Or at least, filters.