Trigger warnings: Emotional abuse, rape
I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for about a week now after some realisations, and I think it’s important to say, even though I know if the people who I’m about to talk about ever read this post, then there might be hurt feelings. I want to make it clear that this is my experience and thoughts on my experience, and your intention (whatever it was at the time) does not negate what I felt about the situation/s.
Ok… so let’s go back in time, a long time ago, back when I was in year 11 and 12, and the first year of uni, I was in a relationship at the time with a boy, the relationship started in complicated ways and all of that is completely unnecessary for this blog post, and I might write another if I can ever be bothered revisiting that mess. So said boy, I’m going to call him Shane (not his actual name) because his family doesn’t deserve the mess that he’s no doubt created for himself by being an epic arse.
Ok, so Shane… apart from raping me because actually honouring my “no” was too big a deal when we first had sex… he emotionally abused me. I didn’t have the language for it at the time, but I gradually built it, seeing that his need for control was totally opposite to my need for freedom, and that he’d say almost anything to stop me being me, and have me being… I am not actually sure, but crying mostly. There was a lot of crying, a lot of me quietly seething, a lot of not very good sex, and occasional me lashing out at him, never successfully. (If you wonder why sometimes I want to stab, it’s this dude).
Anyway… my relationship with my mother at the same time was complete garbage. My father was juggling being the main breadwinner, mum had gotten a job in a call centre, unemployment was high, and mortgage interest rates were in the vicinity of 17% – things were stressful and for reasons I don’t understand (a lot of that too), mum decided that I needed to be brought back under parental control.
A bit of background here that would explain why I wasn’t, as far as my mum was concerned, a proper child… mum had a stroke when I was 3 and half, and then in quick succession had my second and third sisters. She was an incredibly sick and absent parent. I was dad’s emotional support immediately after the stroke, and grew up very fast. I was effectively an adult by the time I was 4 years old. When an adult hits puberty and my absent, ill mother had become a present and mostly healthy mother who was jealous of the fact that my 3 sisters turned to me first… fireworks.
In addition to that, I was raised to be/just am a very independent person. I fight to make my own mistakes, I do not like being told what I should do, I rebel and I rebel a lot (see my career as a full time rebellion against stuff and it all makes sense). So when my mother decided that I wasn’t being a good… child/daughter/person/something she turned to the only tool she had… words.
So… I had a boyfriend who was trying to control me and a mother who was trying to control me, and yeah that wasn’t going to work, but at the same time I was incredibly trapped. My mother would lecture me and lecture me and then lecture me a bit more, often at completely inopportune times (just as I was going to bed and just after I had woken up), times that we were going to be the only two awake or present in the house. There were never any witnesses, so I couldn’t say that she was doing X or saying Y. I didn’t have anyone to turn to.
My boyfriend would say things that would upset me. I honestly can’t remember any of them (I’ve probably blocked them all out, who wants to relive that trauma). When I would tell him about the things that my mother had said (two of which I remember), he would turn those about and use them on me as well. He took advantage of my mother’s emotional abuse to further perpetuate his own. I had no one to turn to until I went to university, discovered the proto internet (no web back in the early to mid 90s), and met actual people who were not arseholes.
The whole uni thing made my boyfriend and my mother more controlling, but I had more support and people to go to, and since we were studying different courses, I had more time to be on my own and talk to people and to be reminded that this shit wasn’t normal. I started unconsciously crafting an escape plan and activated it, and then… well shit was shit and took a long time to clean up.
Dumping Shane and starting a relationship with James (immediately) was safety. Moving out of home as soon as I could, and then out of my grandmothers as soon as I could after that was also safety. Both Shane’s and my mother’s toxic behaviour continued post me moving out but I had more of an air gap and that provided insulation. I found new friends, started work and began to consider wearing stompy boots.
Once Shane found out that I was engaged to James, he fucked off (if I had realised that was what it would take (I now belonged to another man) I would have told him earlier). My mother and my relationship took many more years to return to a degree of normality. James still hasn’t forgiven her for the shit she put me through (which is fair), and I haven’t really either, I’ve just stopped hoping that she’d acknowledge it, because she’s damaged and traumatised from her stroke and her childhood, and quite frankly I am the one with power now, which I will use for good and not evil.
My sisters also stepped in and told mum (probably more than once) to back the fuck off and stop being so horrible. So I’m very thankful that they were in my corner too. That said, I developed enough independence over my life that had I needed to cut off my family, I could totally do that. (Growing up in Alice Springs, a tiny adult looking after younger sisters tends to do that)
This whole blog post came about because for some reason I realised that the emotional abuse I was being subjected to by my mother and Shane was feeding into each other and that was just fucked. And then I thought about my friends who have what I would call abusive relationships with their parents and who feel that they can’t cut their parents out of their lives – even though in the first instance it is probably the best thing for their emotional safety.
I don’t know what to say to those people other than you can tell them you don’t want to hear/speak to them forever/a week/month/year/time period of your choosing. You can find a family of choice and build a community of friends, partner/s, and non-awful family around you. It’s a wonderful thing to do and so rewarding.
I think I’ll finish with a key quote from the Captain Awkward post I linked to above, just remember to include “and family” after romantic partners if that situation fits:
You don’t have to be perfect in order to want kindness and consideration from your romantic partners! You also don’t have to tell the story perfectly or be able to define what’s happening perfectly or convince everybody of what Abuse is to deserve support from people who love you! You’re allowed to just want your relationship to be relaxing and happy and not a giant source of stress in your life!