CW: keeping secrets about child abuse, the aftermath of systemic abuse in the present day, family secrets, intergenerational trauma, swearing, and standard “never go to the 9th Circle of Hell” trauma.
I’ve run away from this topic for a good three posts now, but I guess it’s time to return to our regularly scheduled shit show. It’s time to give an update on life in the 9th Circle of Hell. One might assume I’ve been running away from the topic because it involves more of the same present-day Hell, but I’ve honestly gotten pretty damn used to calling out abusive group homes on this blog. I’d feel no compunction against describing the latest in the series if needed.
The complication here isn’t about what’s happening in the present. It’s the fact that the moment the present vaguely stabilizes, there’s always, always ways the past can still betray me in the 9th Circle of Hell. It is the land of betrayal, after all. Writing about the past abuse that happened to me – or anything that relates to it – is always so much harder than writing about the systemic abuse I substantiated in this very year 2018. A “family” legacy of secrets and lies is so very hard to shake…
We did find a place. My Partner went to Hell alone the week of our first nor’easter and helped move my sibling into it. My sibling currently resides in what shall henceforth be termed the One-Horse Townhouse. I am out of leave, and the place is in an area so rural I wasn’t confident even hotel wifi would work well enough to work remotely. We tried Skyping while my Partner was there; it didn’t work on the weak wifi. So, I guess I made the right call to stay on the East Coast rather than risk my job.
“I guess” because sending my Partner to a one-horse town with just one other “family” member and only social lubricant for them to kill time – remember even the wifi sucked – led to a few “family” revelations that upended my world, though my Sibling seems to be doing okay. How do I even begin to explain this anonymously?
Well, let’s start with the vaguely good. The One-Horse Townhouse doesn’t immediately seem like it sucks. Stigmatizing shit was heaped onto Sibling’s last “Person-Centered Support Plan” because the abusive Too Little, Too Late Inn literally forged our signature and filed a PCSP anyway (which the state, of course, accepted without question) after its attempts to force us to sign its lies legally broke down. We refused to sign anything. So, the abusers “signed” for us. That forged document scared me even by Hell’s standards. (The fact they forged our signature, at least, did help in the eventual undoing of the Too Little, Too Late Inn, but it doesn’t negate the fact that document keeps scuttling around like a cockroach even though we’ve attempted to eradicate it.)
It’s always nice when an agency says bluntly “well, we were braced for the worst after reading the PCSP, but Sibling so far seems easier than many of our clients” and suggests we formally amend what should never have existed in the first place. I won’t say I’m optimistic. I’ve learned from the Middling Child that even after years of thinking things are basically ok, one complex medical crisis and an agency can/will abandon ship. I will say I’m slightly less jaded enough to think that since Sibling currently seems to be recovering/not displaying any trauma tells – and the agency seems to find him relatively easy to work with – that maybe the crisis won’t come until after Christmas. Perhaps I will have two months of “peace” before the next crisis to attempt our “international” trip and salvage something from this die-in-a-fire year. In the 9th Circle of Hell, that’s practically a Christmas miracle.
However, because of that “peace” – and nothing-to-do-in-a-one-horse-town – that other “family” member who went with my Partner got a little loose-lipped in “relief.” Thus, the 9th Circle of Hell got in a final “fuck you” anyway and blasted off what remained of the lock on Lavender’s mental trauma box.
This “family” member has staunchly defended my Sibling during the Crisis of 2018. Hell, they have staunchly defended my Sibling, period. They live in the 9th Circle of Hell, and they are an ally in keeping watch over places and ferreting out abuse.
I’d probably never talk to them if not for that fact. They are also someone I attempted to talk to about my own abuse history growing up, and I was rebuffed by them to the point of gaslighting and emotional abuse. They use me ever disclosing to them as a weapon to bludgeon me with psychically to this day. This is the “family” member that my Partner forces me to amend my blog posts to describe as “the enemy of my enemy is an abusive asshole I wouldn’t want you around if we had any other choice” instead of just as “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” as I intended. This “family” member takes the idea of “defend the family against all external threats” so seriously that my talking about my own abuse history even within the family breaks our tradition of secrets and lies to the point where I’m viewed as an external threat.
This person openly views me as a traitor for being a guardian of my sibling but leaving the 9th Circle of Hell. I’ve tried to explain I only did so with the understanding that they themselves would be there to be co-guardian and that I really do believe Sibling would be safer outside Hell. Leaving is still unforgivable, no matter what our “family” or Hell is like. They are of the opinion that our family’s lot in life is to suffer and that my fate is to suffer the most of all as the closest blood relative of our “family’s” most vulnerable member. We’re genetically and traumatically scarred as a “family.”
This “family member” was already an adult when I was still a child, but they have an ACE score high enough to suffer C-PTSD themselves. They have suffered under what passes for “mental health care” themselves. I know – with every fiber of my being – that no matter how much I sometimes fear I will repeat my past, I would never do what that “family” member chose to do. I fought to break out of family secrets and lies, and I did. I have this blog, if nothing else, which reveals a lot even if it is anonymous. I also would fight Hell for any vulnerable child – including one like me – not just for my Sibling. If I can break the cycle, does the fact that that “family” member was abused themselves provide an excuse? You can decide for yourselves.
I knew that family member resented that I had left the 9th Circle of Hell. They make no secret of bludgeoning me with my selfishness whenever I am forced to talk to them. I knew that they denied that anything had ever happened to me in childhood. I knew that they had only ever belittled and humiliated me for daring to “pretend” anything had ever happened to me in the face of the “real” trauma that had happened to my Sibling. I knew that they called me an “attention-seeker” and a “fake” who is just “jealous” of her Sibling when I disclosed my own pain. I know that talking to them about anything other than how to help my Sibling will only ever break my heart.
I have always believed they acted that way because they simply couldn’t believe that my own ACE score was that high. I chose to believe – because I had no self-esteem – that if they could ever truly be convinced of my own past, they’d come to understand why I’d probably be dead at my own hand if I’d stayed in Hell. I chose to believe they couldn’t know my past because how could they have left me to it and then blamed me for escaping it if they did?
Apparently, they just cared so little about me that in Sophie’s Choice whether to protect me – and risk surrendering Sibling to the system – they chose to actively stay silent to protect one sibling over another. They knew, and they chose to deny it to me as well as to everyone else. They chose to gaslight me rather than offer one damn word of validation or comfort.
Until social lubricant, the stir-craziness of a one-horse town, the cumulative trauma of the Too Little, Too Late Inn and the Bedbug Motel, and the emotional distance that they were only talking to my Partner, not to me, loosened their lips. I guess they truly don’t remember what they told my Partner? Or they assume that – given the severity of the abuse my Sibling suffered so very recently and that only his trauma matters – my Partner would fall into the family tradition of keeping secrets and lies about what happens within the family to protect Sibling from what happens outside of it?
Who knows, but somehow this “family” member flat out told my Partner what they have actively warped my reality my entire life to hide: that they knew exactly how high my ACE score was in childhood. They knew, and they chose to do nothing to protect me so that they could continue to protect my Sibling from the system until I was of legal age to assume guardianship. They left me in my own personal Hell to ensure I was never system-involved myself and could take over as guardian as soon as possible. They didn’t seem to care what effect that might have had on me in the meantime. I wasn’t a person. I was a vessel to be shaped to sacrifice for another’s safety. What did my life matter? Another was so vulnerable, and someone had to sacrifice. I was the closest blood; that was it. Whatever happened to me in the eighteen years prior to legal guardianship didn’t matter if I wasn’t really a person in my own right anyway, right?
I don’t doubt my Partner’s telling of it. I can’t, in fact. He is so set on getting me to accept that my family is dangerous to me – and on getting me to do the therapeutic work to face that fact as much as the recent trauma – that he surreptitiously recorded that “confession.” He wanted me to have it when that “family” member denies my history again. I’m deeply grateful that my Partner had the presence of mind to do that for me. I’ve said so many times, even on this blog, that the denial of abuse is worse to me than the abuse itself. His recording provides me with a tangible talisman that the things in my past that dissociation has rendered hazy for self-protection are real. They are known to others. They couldn’t have been “faked,” as that “family” member has claimed, for attention because I am self-centered. My reality is real.
I love my Partner dearly for giving me the gift of the sanctity of my own memories. I can’t feel anything other than grateful that he recorded that “family” member’s admission that I really was abused as a child, but I also can’t quite muster the rage I know I should feel towards that “family” member for staying silent about it.
I can’t quite let go of self-recrimination for leaving the 9th Circle of Hell and “saving myself” at my Sibling’s expense. I can’t quite let that recording silence the bully-in-my-brain. Because, well, I can’t quite believe that what that “family” member said was wrong. I can’t quite believe I deserve my own life. When faced with the equally undeniable reality that systemic abuse does exist, I still question whether maybe I am only meant to be a martyr for my Sibling. Maybe having built a life on the East Coast does mean that I have chosen myself at his expense. I can’t quite believe that I am not the selfish traitor that “family” member believes I am.
I made the same choice as that “family” member when I was a child. I made the choice to stay silent about my own abuse to protect my Sibling, as I’d also seen enough of “the system” to believe that systemic involvement – especially institutionalization – was a fate worse than death. I probably wasn’t wrong. Except, I was a child when I made that choice. I look at the systemic abuse in the present and honestly can’t say I’d make a different choice if I had it all to do over again. But, I was a child when I made that choice. And, a child – even one more savvy about power dynamics than any child should ever have to be – is still just a child.
Knowing an adult consciously made that same choice between protecting me and protecting my Sibling is hard to think about, and even harder to ignore. I made a choice for myself, I thought. I chose not to speak up about my own abuse, and that, to me, always mattered. It is one thing to make my own choice to stay silent about what happened to me. It is quite another thing to now know someone else made that choice for me as well. I can only imagine that if I had spoken up, that same “family” member would have denied my testimony and defanged it. I can only assume they would have actively – in addition to passively – destroyed me to protect the sibling they felt deserved their protection more. That certainly reframes the “choice” I once thought I made, realizing now that it wouldn’t have mattered either way.
How can any adult knowingly sit by and allow one child to end up with an ACE score that nearly tops the chart? How can they then blame that same child for running away as soon as possible? How can they allow one child to end up with an ACE score that high because they chose to protect a different child instead? How can you choose between children, no matter how “vulnerable” they are relative to each other? Aren’t all children always vulnerable?
Who the fuck was that so-called “family” member to determine that my lot in life was only to suffer at the hand of the 9th Circle of Hell forever to save another?
Who was that “family” member? Well, one, they were someone who had a high ACE score themselves. Two, they were someone who also believed it was their duty to keep silent about what happened to them. That “family” member was someone who accepted the “family sacrifice” role themselves, and they were someone who was further traumatized at the hands of the mental health system to the point where they also feared it more than the abuse. In short, they were an abused-child-turned-abuser.
They are someone I could easily have become. They are someone I don’t know how I escaped becoming, sometimes. They were, like me, the victim of intergenerational trauma in childhood and then further traumatized by our broken “social services” system as an adult. Their story explains everything, but does it excuse anything?
Fuck intergenerational trauma. I hate that it is so very hard to hate that “family” member with the same passion that my Partner does on my behalf. I hate that I feel like maybe in a parallel universe I could have become them. I hate that it’s harder to hate them knowing that their childhood shared many of the worst features of mine. I hate that I fought to break that “family” cycle, but I can’t view the fact that I did break it as reason enough to feel rage at someone who stayed silent while I developed a “cycle” to have to break! I should hate that “family” member who admitted they knew and didn’t protect me. Maybe I don’t hate them because I know their story. Maybe I don’t hate them because I have a lot of trauma work still to do to process those memories.
And, maybe I don’t hate them because hating them would be dangerous in the face of the current systemic abuse. I hate the thought that that reason might be why I don’t hate them most of all. I hate that my brain still calculates, “Well, what’s the point of hating them and making a thing of it? Either I’ll find a placement for my Sibling on the East Coast before the next crisis in the 9th Circle of Hell, or I won’t. Until that time, I still could use every ally to ensure nothing terrible is happening at the One-Horse Townhouse.”
I hate that I might still be unable to process the true betrayal of that “family” member as fully as I should because I’m still thinking strategically about how I need this person to help keep tabs on the current systemic Hell and protect my Sibling more than I deserve the validation of confronting them about their complacency in my own history. I know without any doubt that this “family” member can be trusted with my Sibling. And, for that reason, I fear I might be primarily continuing to make the choice to never confront them about how – though I still trust them with my Sibling – I now know for sure that I should never have trusted them with myself.
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.